The Balloonist

The Balloonist

MacDonald Harris / Feb 21, 2020

The Balloonist As in the best of Jules Verne or Albert Sanchez Pinol The Balloonist is a gripping and surreal yarn chilling and comic by turn that brilliantly reinvents the Arctic adventure It is July at th

  • Title: The Balloonist
  • Author: MacDonald Harris
  • ISBN: 9780374108748
  • Page: 440
  • Format: Hardcover
  • As in the best of Jules Verne or Albert Sanchez Pinol, The Balloonist is a gripping and surreal yarn, chilling and comic by turn, that brilliantly reinvents the Arctic adventure.It is July 1897, at the northernmost reach of the inhabited world A Swedish scientist, an American journalist, and a young, French speaking adventurer climb into a wicker gondola suspended beneathAs in the best of Jules Verne or Albert Sanchez Pinol, The Balloonist is a gripping and surreal yarn, chilling and comic by turn, that brilliantly reinvents the Arctic adventure.It is July 1897, at the northernmost reach of the inhabited world A Swedish scientist, an American journalist, and a young, French speaking adventurer climb into a wicker gondola suspended beneath a huge, red and white balloon The ropes are cut, the balloon rises, and the three begin their voyage an attempt to become the first people to set foot on the North Pole, and return, borne on the wind Philip Pullman says in his foreword Once I open any of MacDonald Harris s novels I find it almost impossible not to turn and read on, so delightful is the sensation of a sharp intelligence at work In The Balloonist , we see all of his qualities at their best.

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      Published :2018-09-22T00:13:38+00:00

    About "MacDonald Harris"

      • MacDonald Harris

        Pseudonym of Donald HeineyMACDONALD 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 at the University of Southern California In 1964 he lived with his wife and son in Salt Lake City where he taught writing and comparative literature.Mr Harris s first story appeared in Esquire in 1947 Since then he has published stories in The Atlantic Monthly, Harpers Bazaar, Cosmopolitan, and The Saturday Evening Post, as well as a number of literary quarterlies His story Second Circle was reprinted in the 1959 O Henry Collection Private Demons, his first novel, was published in 1961 Mortal Leap, his second, was finished in the summer of 1963 in Rome.


    1. There is always a rough edge in tech, where afficionados tinker with half-known science. Nowadays it might seem that physics frontiers are out of reach of amateur enthusiasts, and that you need a doughtnut-shaped tunnel many kilometres long buried under the middle of Europe and gigajoules of energy to find out anything new, but there are still unfashionable and expensive things to do, like scan the sky for approaching asteroids, that are, I believe still more or less in the hands of communities [...]

    2. The book jacket description and the quote from Philip Pullman about not being able to stop turning pages once one starts reading this book led me to expect a very different type of story--a literary "Arctic adventure" that would primarily focus on getting a balloon to the North Pole. Sounded exciting!Instead the book's primary focus is the tedious love affair between two ridiculously pretentious people, narrated in fittingly pretentious prose. (Needlessly lengthy sentences, no missed opportunity [...]

    3. WTF. The only reason I gave this two stars was because the ending, where (view spoiler)[everyone dies (hide spoiler)], was extremely satisfying.

    4. Yes, hello, do you need a book where half of it is an expedition to the North Pole in a hot air balloon and the other half is a mixed up remembrance of a gender-bending romance? Would you like all of the people involved to be absolute weirdos? How do you feel about page-long walls of introspective text?Sounds good? Yes?All right. HAVE I GOT A BOOK FOR YOU . .It's, uh, it's this one . .What? Do you need more? Fine.It took a while to get into, which can be a problem in my current child-related att [...]

    5. I wound up enjoying this book a lot more than I initially expected. Its prose is easy to read (and peppered with creative metaphors) yet sometimes challenging to follow. It's an internal monologue and so much of it takes place in memory, dream, or fantasy. The protagonist is pretty unlikeable throughout, being a prime specimen of Victorian misogyny and male privilege as he relives/recounts his relationship with a rather unconventional woman. He is obsessed with his self-concept as a scientist an [...]

    6. I picked this up on my boyfriend's bookshelf, with the tantalizing premise of an artic explorer to the North Pole by hot air balloon. I wasn't expecting the beautiful language, the unusual and catch-me-off-my-guard metaphors, that I couldn't have predicted, but couldn't have been more precise. He once described a man yodelling as separating egg yolks in one's mouth. The story itself is a past-brought-to-the-present narrative of the mind, and slips back between and forth between past and present [...]

    7. Not a bad writer, but he uses a lot of unnecessarily big words. Never use a fifty-cent word when a ten-cent word will do, that's what I say. I finished the first hundred pages or so without much interest except in the love scene. If you're into historical fiction and antiquated navigation technology, then this book is for you.

    8. I stumbled across this book and it looked intriguing. Written in the 70's and touted as a "cult classic". It had many, if not most, of my favorite elements: Historical fiction with plenty of vivid descriptions of places, decor, clothing, landscapes. A scientific expedition, with details of the emerging science of aerial ballooning. Feminism. Wry humor. And, a torrid, complicated affair. It was never formulaic or predictable - in fact the last third of the book was exactly the opposite. I loved a [...]

    9. This is a strange book - part adventure story, part curious romance - both comic and philosophical. I don't know if I would be safe recommending it to anyone yet I really liked it.

    10. There are two claimants for the honour of being first to have reached the (Geographic) North Pole: the expeditions led over the ice by Frederick Cook in 1908 and by Robert Peary the following year. Gustav Crispin, the balloonist narrator of MacDonald Harris’ novel, also starts out with the intention of reaching the North Pole – but a decade earlier, in July 1897. Harris does a wonderful job of evoking that whole era of polar exploration, and the sense of uncharted and inhospitable vastnesses [...]

    11. This book is a curiousity that is well worth reading. The two main protagonists are well-drawn and likeable characters, and the book is a kind of game with the reader who has to work out exactly what the connection is between the scenes when the two lovers establish their very modern realtionship (the book is set in nineteenth century Europe, among the middle classes) and the slightly later events of the highly unlikely balloon expedition to the north pole. Both the technical descriptions of bal [...]

    12. This novel, inspired by an actual attempt to reach the North Pole by balloon in the 1890’s, is a well-wrought tale of adventure that includes a rather odd but memorable love affair. Harris seems very much forgotten, and yet he wrote to some acclaim in his day and is cited by authors such as Philip Pullman as an influence on their work (most obvious perhaps in Northern Lights). He is very adept at describing the science of the day along with the practice of ballooning, but surprisingly he is at [...]

    13. This novel defies classification. It feels like it could be steampunk, with the science and very Vernian approach to the plot driving story of a balloon expedition to the Noth Pole. But the author also explores sexual roles and communication within the strange love affair between the 2 main characters.The book jacket says this novel was nominated or the National book award, but in checking the National Book award web site, I see that it did not make it to the finalist round. I'm not surprised. T [...]

    14. I rarely adore a book, but I adored The Balloonist, in all its carefully-restrained, ironical, acerbic strangeness. It's a story about an obsessive, driven, romantically obtuse late-Nineteenth Century explorer on an expedition to the North Pole - or is it? No, it isn't. It's a monstrous, improbable, gravity-defying metaphor. And one of the best Mad Narrator novels ever. The twist at the end will rip your head off.

    15. There were some beautiful sentences and unique evocative phrases but overall this book was a bore. It was difficult for me to read more than 20 pages without falling asleep. I also resent being sent to my dictionary for unnecessary words over and over. I disliked both the narrator and his love interest and found it difficult to care what happened to either of them. I can see it being appealing for a certain type of reader but not my cup of tea.

    16. A superb read by one of America's great, prolific (but neglected) novelists. 3 men attempt to reach the North Pole by balloon in 1897. Actually a true story but no-one realised this when the novel was first published in 1976.Its just been re-issued by Overlook with a Philip Pullman foreword. Pullman is big fan of this writer.The novel is incredibly well crafted and there's a big twist which you may not get until quite late in the book.Read it!

    17. I heard about this book from a list of Philip Pullman's favorite books, and indeed, this book is impeccably written. The book is about a balloon expedition to the North Pole, with a love story thrown in for good measure. What else to think about as you float northwards? Although the story at times was slow, the short length (<300 pages), fin-de-siecle setting, and wit kept me going. Plus, there's a nice twist at the end.

    18. As far-fetched and wonderfully fictitious as the idea of a voyage to the North Pole via balloon sounds, it was actually attempted in 1897 by S. A. Andrée (see Alec Wilkinson’s The Ice Balloon). The Balloonist draws from that expedition, but adds its own developments in the theme of Victorian ideals crashing into the modern, or rather the blank unforgiving Arctic nature actually ruling all.

    19. I really am enjoying this when I have been reading it and yet it has been given shortshrift. I have not gotten far and remember little of the last 30 pages because how I have been reading it.It was a terrific gift from Gloria and has high recommendations from friends and MH's other writing.I will return to this when I can start over, immerse, and zip through it.Feeling lame about this, but want to give it the due it deserves.

    20. More thoughts to come later but I will say this: to enjoy the novel you definitely have to finish it. The narrator is completely unreliable and a bit of an asshole but as the book develops you begin to see how no one let's him get away with which I wholeheartedly appreciated.

    21. This book was recommended by Philip Pullman (whom I adore) in a Guardian article on forgotten treasures. Apparently it's out of print, but if Philip liked it, I'll have to try to find a copy.

    22. Excellent adventure story with a great twist. A little dense with details at times.4.6 starsDustin RenwickAuthor, Beyond the Gray Leaf

    23. This was a tedious self-indulgent book that I pushed through to be a good sport for my book club. I was so uninterested by the time I got to the end that I missed the twist, despite reading it twice.

    24. Magnificently rendered first-person narrative. Takes some time, but it's worth it; quite an odd feeling throughout.

    25. Heartbreaking and intellectual at every turn. Unlike any other novel I've read, other than Narcissus and Goldmund. Marvellous

    26. Didn't like any of the characters, especially the balloonist, or the details on life on the balloon, to stick with the book and find out if he made it to the North Pole.

    27. Weird book, I can see how it bacame a cult classic. 30 years ago I would have loved it, now I get it but no major impact.

    28. Hi. Just to let admirers of this amazing book know that we have republished it this week with a new intro by Philip Pullman. See galileopublishersRobert Hyde

    29. Finally back to reading, then length of time it took to read this book is a reflection of a busy life, not a bad or flow read. A twist on the jackoroe theme with buyers remorse.

    30. This book captured my imagination at a particular time in my life. I am afraid to read it again, because every time I reread a book I loved, I wonder what I loved about it.

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