The Balloonist by MacDonald Harris - review by Simon Baker

Simon Baker

Head in the Clouds

The Balloonist


Galileo 243pp £8.99

MacDonald Harris is the pseudonym of Donald Heiney (1921–93), an American professor of literature whose passions for Arctic exploration, sailing and music all feature in The Balloonist, the most highly regarded of his sixteen novels, which was first published in 1976 and which has now been reissued. ‘Highly regarded’ is perhaps misleading, however, since these days his work is seldom read, although one notable admirer is Philip Pullman, who writes the foreword of the reissued book. He attributes Harris’s obscurity to the public’s fondness for writers who stay within a certain niche, which was not Harris’s way: ‘To his publishers, it must have seemed as if he was trying to start a fresh career with each new book.’

The novel, set in 1897, concerns an attempt to fly to the North Pole and back by balloon, which is undertaken by three men: a Swedish scientist named Major Gustav Crispin, and his assistants – an ebullient American journalist named Waldemer, and Theodor, a young adventurer with a twist. Gustav,

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