The Balloonist by MacDonald Harris Foreword by Philip Pullman



Prizes are a powerful means of celebrating books that might otherwise fail to find due recognition. The Folio Society asked its Academicians to imagine that the Folio Prize had existed through time, and to nominate a book that they would like to have seen win. Some of their choices qualify as truly undiscovered, while others may not have received the attention they deserve, but they take in every kind of form, style and subject, and are all wonderful books.

This is Philip Pullman's choice on the first day of the prize's announcement. Click to view
The Balloonist
e-book £3.50


The Balloonist
by MacDonald Harris
Foreword by Philip Pullman

MacDonald Harris wrote the Balloonist in the 1970s and it was published with huge acclaim on both sides of the Atlantic in 1976. Indeed it was runner~up in the National Book Award fiction prize that year. Then, in the 1980s, it mysteriously disappeared and would have remained hidden unless Philip Pullman had not sung the praises of both the book and the work of the author in The Observer back in 2008.

The novel is set in 1897 when three people attempt, for the first time, to fly to the North Pole in a balloon, and return. The story is a deliciously entertaining mix of adventure, sexual intrigue, philosophy and science.

Galileo is thrilled to be reissuing this extraordinary novel with a foreword by Philip Pullman.

click to buy

Read an extract here >

Published October 6th 2011.

Paperback £8.99
ISBN 9781903385104

Also to be released as an ebook, price and pub date to follow.

All trade orders to Turnaround Publisher Services Ltd, London
Telephone: +44 (0)208 829 3000

Reviews of the new edition:

A delightful, quirky novel, "The Balloonist" is written in a dancing prose that matches the excitement of the enterprise…...stunning ballooning passages…...When I finished reading, I found that I had put the heating on and wrapped a blanket around me. For a moment there I was quite ready to set out for the Pole myself.
Karin Altenberg. The Wall Street Journal

A welcome reissue for this rich and strange novel which has languished in undeserved obscurity since narrowly missing the National Book Award in 1977. ...........All this is delivered in prose as polished and intricate as a 25 Jewel watch. Harris died in 1993, but not before writing a further 15 novels. Much more, please.
Chris Ross, The Guardian, November 2011

'Macdonald Harris', as Philip Pullman writes in his introduction to The Balloonist 'is too good to be neglected'.

'While the sixteen novels he wrote before his death in 1993 have a wide variety of settings-ranging from film era Hollywood to 18th century Venice and wartime Japan-they all have in common a quite un- American stance and an acute sense of the ridiculousness of things' he adds.

And yet: Pullman also notes the simple, old-fashioned compulsiveness of his writing: one page and you're gripped.

This is certainly true of The Balloonist, a marvellous and distinctly Phineas Fogg-esque account of a polar balloon trip in the late 1890s.

The landscapes and characters are beautifully realised, the technical details enough to give the narrative ballast, but without bogging it down. Let's hope there are some more Harris reissues on the horizon.
Daily Mail: October 21st

...It's true to say that some will consider the novel to be the great 'find' of this year. will find a level of wit, wisdom and, in spite of the outre main characters, tenderness.

The Balloonist is the first of Harris' novels to be reissued: it would be a shame if others did not follow.
Simon Baker, Literary Review, January 2012


Reviews of the first edition:

"This is a real tour de force, a stylish and brilliant conjuration of a 19th century inventor's world. Memorable characters against a vividly realised background. This one is masterly."
Mary Renault

"There can no longer be any question whatever that McDonald Harris is one of our major novelists."
Los Angeles Times Book Review

"The author's unruffled direction-finding in the cross-currents that he loosed, his command of language (languages, too: French, German, and Swedish, plus some confident echoes of Greek and Latin) and his avoidance, perhaps excision, of the obvious made me follow his tragedy (yes) happily and without pity or terror."
Richard Usborne, Times Literary Supplement.

"Metaphysics, science, sex, the romance of ballooning, turn of the century charm, all combine in a lyrical, deliciously comic and moving novel. Wonderful entertainment in the very best Jules Verne tradition."
Publisher's Weekly

"I've read McDonald Harris's The Balloonist with the greatest pleasure. The novel is wise, witty, sophisticated, and very moving. Crispin is an amazing creation, and his Louisa would be anybody's favourite as the woman one would most like to be marooned with."
Oakely Hall (author of Warlock).

"Chilling and comic....carefully unusual mixture of Arctic Adventure and Parisian love story....told with fin de siecle highly polished as an antique machine on view in a glass case." Kirkus Reviews
"The Balloonist just took me over. I loved it. It's wisely, wittily and sensitively written. It evoked childhood memories of Jules Verne and more recent memories of the French Lieutenants Woman. It is an immensely entertaining book that is, at the same time, much more, interweaving the scientific, the sensual, and the philosophic, I couldn't put it down. I was sorry when it ended. I'm sure I won't be alone. Harris's range is, in fact, immense. Genuinely cosmopolitan, yet without the pretensions, he deeply knows and loves the many foreign languages, landscapes and mythologies that figure in his books........ Harris is an erudite writer, well versed not only in the history and arts of the past but in science and technology as well."
Michael Malone, Philadelphia Inquirer

"Mr Harris is an elegant and fastidious writer, and thinking man's novelist, with a penchant for international situations and polyglot dialogue."
James Mellow, The New York Times Book Review

"Not only nature but the human world is searchingly portrayed.. Particularly in his self-analysis, the author is relentless."
Los Angeles Times Book Review.

"It is his oddball, icily narcissistic way of telling things that lifts The Balloonist above the level of old-fashioned adventure yarn to that of ruminative elegance."
Robert Nye, New York Times Book Review.