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Mortal Leap

4.45  ·  Rating Details  ·  49 Ratings  ·  25 Reviews
Ben Davenant is a merchant mariner, rebel, drifter, a man who takes love and life as it comes and wants no part of the world. During the war, the world returns the favor. When his ship is blown up in the South Pacific, Ben is stripped of every shred of his personal identity--his face, his name, his fingerprints--and cast into the sea like a piece of wreckage. Rescued almos ...more
Paperback, 254 pages
Published 1966 by Corgi Books (first published 1964)
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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 574)
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Jeffrey Keeten
Mar 18, 2016 Jeffrey Keeten rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Jeffrey by: Mike Puma
”You! You!” I shouted. “Pay attention, God damn it, now listen to me!”

Probably I was still drunk from the whiskey. I threw a crowbar, a heavy one; it soared end-over-end and vanished softly and invisibly like a bird.

“Listen! this is serious!” I yelled.

It wasn’t that there was nothing there. It was the silence was there, a physical presence, and wouldn’t answer. I wouldn’t have minded if there had been no God, then the universe would be empty and all things would be possible. But that HE should e
Jun 18, 2012 karen rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: distant-lands

if you had said to me - "here karen, i have this book for you about a merchant marine and his grapplings with such untidy philosophical questions as the difference between selfhood and identity and how much of love is just self-deception," i would have politely thanked you, and then put the book in that safe dark place with the red sweater with the teddy bear on it and the ceramic angel jewelery-box.

but, you read enough positive reviews of something, and it gets hard to not have your interest pi
Mike Puma
Jul 17, 2012 Mike Puma rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: men and/or women
Shelves: 2012

I’m really tempted to give this one 5 stars—as it is, I’m settling for 4, partly because I read a really ratty old mass market paperback edition with tiny print, partly because I give way too many 5 stars ratings, and partly because I’d rather you read it and gave it the 5th star yourself.

I don’t usually generalize from myself to other people, at least not in any ways that do credit to me or them, but I liked the narrator from almost the very beginning, and pretty quickly, he won me over thinki

mark monday
Jul 24, 2014 mark monday rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to mark by: Rod
Dead-Soul Boy runs away from home; he becomes a merchant marine and travels the world. Dead-Soul Boy sees the world through his dead, dead eyes. does Dead-Soul Boy's soul ever come alive? stay tuned!

I had the odd sensation that the nothingness began at the surface of my skin and went on forever, in every direction, to infinity. Well, I finally had what I wanted, I was alone!
so Rod recommended this to me after reading my review of the equally superb The Story of Harold. t
Ever have one of those books that just sticks with you, and you find yourself thinking about it at random times for no particular reason? For me, this is one of those; it's attached itself to my cerebrum like a barnacle on the hull of a tramp steamer. Just looking at the cover provokes an emotional response in me, a powerful urge to delve into its pages once again. That cover. The stark monochrome; the hand-written script of the title; that strange, lonely, blurry face with the dark hollowed-out ...more
Apr 24, 2012 David rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to David by: Rod
You know what's depressing? Don't worry. I'll tell you. There was this guy named MacDonald Harris (who apparently looked a little like the lead singer of Midnight Oil), and this MacDonald Harris guy wrote a novel in the 1960s called Mortal Leap that was a good deal better than many of the 24k gold-plated tomes that have since ascended into the pantheon of canonical literature (to the accompaniment of Handel's Messiah and an overactive fog machine, no doubt). But that novel, good as it was, quick ...more
Apr 18, 2012 brian rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
it's every booknerd's dream to find an unknown & outta print book that rocks his/her world. well, booknerd, get your cock (or some such other corporeal appendage) in here quick, b/c i suspect pretty soon this book ain't gonna be all that unknown.

as a kid i was always turned off by the too-cool-for-school guys, those fonzified turdfucks who felt it cool to act casual about everything. oh, fuck that. i'm one easily enthused jackass and i'd have it no other way. back then, those guys who talke
Jun 30, 2012 Greg rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
As of 6/30/12 at 10:53 am EST, no one on has rated this book who isn't a friend of mine. This is a little weird. It's becoming something of a cult favorite among the little speck of the goodreads world I move about in.

I'm not positive but I think this all started with Brian reading the book, and then him and Kowalski spooging on the internets about it. And then apparently a copy started floating around, I think stemming from Rod, that is making the rounds among people. I'm only coo
Jul 01, 2014 Brian rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Brian by: Rod
MacDonald Harris’ stunning novel Mortal Leap is a refutation of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s line about American lives having no second act. The protagonist of the story is our narrator and it is through his experiences that we are given a mirror to witness our own. It is strange that it is only I who give a reality to this world, these objects that seem so solid: all that is inside me our narrator posits, very early in the book. I often think this thought. You may, too.

You could read the blurb here o

3.5 stars
My bad that I came to this book immediately after reading Gass and Lowry's glorious prose- part Conrad, part noir, and part existential musings, Mortal Leap is an interesting, & at times, a captivating take on the weighty issues of seeking and forging an identity and finding meaning in the act of being, living, and co-existing, but this reader felt excluded by its overtly male-centric pov.

The narrative tone somewhat softened in the second half with the entry of the female lead. (Don
May 22, 2012 Maureen rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Maureen by: Rod
i will never be able to say enough about mortal leap: the plot and its turns, the characterization, the relationships, and above all, the intelligence and heart that went into this book. this deeply resonant, erudite and accessible, sadly out-of-print novel is pointedly prefaced by a quote from pascal (pensées, vi:17):

He who loves a person on account of their beauty, does he love the person? No; for the small pox, which kills the beauty without killing the person, will destroy the love. And if o
Apr 28, 2014 Gloria rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
"The resentment I felt inside was not hatred for being imprisoned or for Victor who had betrayed me but something deeper: a rebellion against the very way of things that condemned men to be imprisoned inside their own identities."

Larry doesn't really know who he is. He simply knows that his whole life he's been battling and fighting against how his current environment has defined him.
Until he's given a rare opportunity.
Plucked from the sea amidst the burning wreckage of a sunken Naval ship, inju
Ben Loory
Aug 09, 2012 Ben Loory rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
this book came so highly recommended i almost didn't want to read it, i figured it couldn't possibly live up to the hype. but it did, and in a nice way-- a calm, quiet, sure way. i think i expected a lot of fireworks or something. instead, this book struck me as something of a dead breed. it kinda reminded me of john marquand's Point of No Return. it's a wise book, without being some kind of alchemist-type thing where all the secrets of the universe are supposedly explained. it made me realize h ...more
Aug 09, 2012 Daniel rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
I’ve been afraid of writing this review because I know I’m not a good writer, and I want to find the words to express how I feel about Mortal Leap, but I realize I can’t ever really find the perfect way to describe this book, so why bother, right? But I guess that is what this book is really about, not some idiot trying to write a book review, but taking the “leap” into the unknown and trusting that you will find yourself, or whatever it is you are looking for, on the other side. Let’s see if I ...more
Sep 07, 2012 Patty rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
My favorite moments in the book came very early. I loved the portrayal of sneaking off to read as an illicit act, and I was sorry when the protagonist succumbed to the more ordinary, typical illicit acts to be found in the wider world outside of the family home. I was also sorry that the thread of reading was only very cursorily continued, as it was the thing that I related to the most. I also love the moments of survival on the island, before the "rescue." I think the second half of the book pa ...more
Nov 02, 2012 Les rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: EVERYONE
Recommended to Les by: Dorks and Those who know them
I am a lazy reviewer and wish to change that by actually reviewing some of the books I read. It should start with this one, but time does not permit it at the moment. So, a promised review soon.

In the meantime, I can give no better recommendation for Mortal Leap than adding it to my Essential list (consider it my 6 star or the best of my favorites). It IS that good.

"I had no objection to facts and labels in principle. Let them find out the facts, let them write labels all day if it gave them ple
I'd been highly recommended Mortal Leap for about a year and a half before I finally requested it through inter-library loan (my reading time may be infringed upon by my grad student life but I wouldn't give up the library privileges for the world, except maybe graduating eventually). It showed up right as the semester went nuts. Of course, not as nuts as the plot and premise of this novel.

Our narrator starts out as a young man in Utah, from a devout Mormon family, who will rather get caught re
thoughtful and exciting novel of a man who loses his identities in wwii. it's like of james cain somehow mind-melded with denis johnson and wrote about a merchant marine in the dirty thirties. please see other wonderful reviews for some smart and passionate ideas of this wonderful almost "lost" novel. like maureen's
rod's, who started this all by his championing


Jun 29, 2013 Helen rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This was very nearly a 4 and if I hadn't read so many good books this year, it might well have been. This was a first for me; the very first book I've e-read and the experience was very strange after so many decades of reading paper books. I think I prefer paper - I missed the cover, the blurb and the recommendations by various newspapers and reviewers.

The book was very unusual and was in two distinct halves. One before the 'leap' and one after. The first half reminded me of Catcher in the Rye -
Aug 23, 2015 eden rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-2015
I was actually hoping I wouldn't like this. If I didn't like it, I would never feel compelled to track down a physical copy for my very own. As it is, though, it's a singular, unexpectedly philosophical novel, and now I need one, and the cheapest on the internet is something like $500. Bother.
Sep 26, 2014 Jonathan rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Excellent stuff, and most unjustly buried. Lots of interesting exploration of self/narrative/memory/identity which resonated perfectly with my current Ricoeur reading. Deserves a better review than this, and I will try and write something when I have more time.
Jul 01, 2012 Neglectedbooks rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Mortal Leap tells a story it seems as if we’ve seen on TV a dozen times: a man takes on another’s identity, abandoning his own, and lives out a new life. But have we?

There are plenty of stories of mistaken identity, and plenty more, like the Kevin Kline comedy, “Dave”, where one person pretends to be another (in that case, the President of the United States) to deceive others. In Mortal Leap, however, we are led, with careful attention to detail, motivation, and effect, through a man’s decision
Sep 02, 2015 Angelique marked it as to-read  ·  review of another edition
Strange to write a review before I even get a chance to read it, but how do I go about procuring this book? I am intrigued, please help!
Harris's dissection of what constitutes the self is very interesting here, pitted against a story of adventure and intrigue on the sea and its port counterpart. Philosophy, existential crises of individuality and subjectivity, and the gritty cinematic noir-meets-Conrad atmosphere in this book are wonderfully executed. It's a shame that Harris is virtually unknown: this is a title a publisher like NYRB should bring back into print to shed more light on Harris's work.
Jun 03, 2016 Nick rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
4.75 - the section before the "leap" is absolutely stunning and perfect. The post leap section was seriously enjoyable, but overall not masterpiece-level, and thus, not quite a 5.
mona marked it as to-read
Jul 23, 2016
G Wheeler
G Wheeler marked it as to-read
Jul 21, 2016
Erasmus marked it as to-read
Jul 09, 2016
Lucas Fonseca
Lucas Fonseca marked it as to-read
Jul 05, 2016
Anouk Elle
Anouk Elle marked it as to-read
Jul 04, 2016
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fiction files redux: mortal leap, and other books about identity 4 24 May 29, 2012 04:47PM  
  • Island People
  • The Island of Second Sight
  • Miss MacIntosh, My Darling
  • Amalgamemnon
  • The Jade Cabinet
  • The Cardboard House
  • Women and Men
  • The Inquisitory
  • The Collected Poems
  • Vanishing Points: A Pulp Triptych  (COQworks, #1)
  • Ice
  • Berg
  • Pointed Roofs
  • The Great Fire of London: A Story with Interpolations and Bifurcations
  • The Death Ship
  • The Symmetry Teacher
  • On Elegance While Sleeping
  • Reader’s Block
Pseudonym of Donald Heiney

MACDONALD HARRIS was born in South Pasadena in 1921. Seastruck from the time he read Stevenson at the age of twelve, he went to sea in earnest as a merchant marine cadet in 1942, sat for his Third Mate's license in 1943, and spent the rest of the war as a naval officer on a fleet oiler. After the war he earned a B.A. at Redlands and a doctorate in comparative literature a
More about MacDonald Harris...

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“The books were a private part of me that I carried inside and guarded and didn't talk to anybody about; as long as I had the books I could convince myself I was different from the others and my life wasn't quite as stupid and pointless.” 40 likes
“Alcohol was for people who basically wished to be dead but lacked the courage to kill themselves.” 21 likes
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