Communicator (communicator) wrote,

The Course of the Heart

I am just finishing 'The Course of the Heart' by M John Harrison. MJH is an exceptional writer, sometimes his prose is almost ostentatious. I get the impression that he writes at will without discrete structure and assembles the parts almost arbitrarily into short stories and novels. This novel includes characters and scenes from more than one of his short stories. The atmosphere and philosophy of the book is aligned with all of his work. The flaws are flaws I sympathise with. However, like Philip K Dick I think he is a very masculine writer, who has problems with the female. Like PKD he is a gnostic writer, though his style is very different. The material world is the shadow of a denser, more real, world (in this novel 'the Pleroma') which intrudes in an unhealthy way.

I read a review by MJH of an Ursula Le Guin book (I think it was 'The Telling') which he completely laid into in a vicious dismissive way. His attacks seemed to be very much a 'yang' reaction to le Guin's 'yin' style. Or if you like a butch rejection of the femme. The book he wrote at that time - 'Light' - was very yang. 'Light' is a butch, positivist, sort of title don't you think?

'The course of the heart' by contrast is more of a yin title, and I think MJH might be starting to resolve his differences with the female.

ETA - coalescent tells me this yin novel was written ten years before 'Light', so the trajectory is one of falling away rather than moving towards reconciliation. The wikipedia entry on The Pleroma says

'Gnostic Texts envision the Pleroma as aspects of God, the Eternal Divine Principle, who can only be partially understood... Each aspect of God is given a name (sometimes several) and a female counterpart. Gnostics viewed Divinity and Completeness in terms of male/female unification.'

In all MJH stories reality is paper-thin, but so are we. If we try to move beyond the tissue of the world, we will be torn apart. In this story an Other World - the Coeur - is posited which may or may not mediate between humanity and the Pleroma. Like the gnostic Sophia, the blood line of the Coeur may or may not be eternal. The horrors of central Europe, up to and past the Holocaust, may or may not be the wound left when the Coeur was ripped away from the Earth.

The story is about the repercussions of an act of Theurgy. In some ways this novel has a lot in common with 'Jonathan Strange' but it has a more intense view of the danger of the Other World to us.

Finally I want to quote a passage that I like, which is tangential to the novel (most of which is set in the present day). I think MJH likes it too, as he reproduces it word for word later in the book

The Empress Gallica XII Hierodule, mounted and wearing polished plate armour but - in response some thought to a dream she had had as a child at the court of Charles VII of France - carrying no weapons, waited with her captains, Theodore Lascaris and the twenty-three-year-old English adventurer Michael Neville (later 'Michael of Anjou'), for the last assault on the citadel...

At ten in the morning a force of Serbs and Albanians, on ladders of their own dead, breached the inner defences; by noon they were still only halfway across the citadel, fighting grimly uphill street by street.

Lascaris was killed there early in the afternoon. Neville, trying wildly to come to his aid, with the remains of the small English contingent, seems to have been ambushed and awfully wounded, and it is possible the Empress thought both of them dead.

She was last seen on foot at four o'clock, near one of the gates. By then, someone said, she was weeping openly and had picked up a sword. Her armour, though spattered with blood, remained so bright that when the smoke cleared you could not bear to look directly at her. Several people saw her fall. Not content with killing her the Serbs trampled her unrecognisable.

I haven't quite finished this book (about 15 pages to go) but I wanted to post this now while I had a free moment.
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