the m john harrison blog

some falls

Summer, 2012: Charlie and his cousin Matthew set out one evening in Charlie’s Lexus to join Charlie’s wife, Chloe, at their summer home in the Catskills. It’s a complex relationship. Charlie, you sense, usually gets what he wants. Matthew is more the junior partner, always offering, always giving, always biddable. In fact, before we know it, he has already agreed to get out of the car, catch a train back to New York and pick up a bracelet Charlie left behind. By page four you think it’s odd that Charlie’s so insistent, in his understated, manipulative way; by page five you’re wondering which of them might be the fall guy of the title… Read on

My review of James Lasdun’s The Fall Guy, up at the Guardian today.


The Theory Cadre wishes a Happy 2017 to all our guests, even those who failed to stay in their rooms as requested during the “hollow” period.


2016 reads

Lots of Penelope Fitzgerald, especially The Bookshop and Offshore. Some Maeve Brennan, whose “I See You, Bianca” is one of the best short stories I’ve ever read. All of Tom Drury. Beast, Paul Kingsnorth and The Gradual by Christopher Priest tied with Maylis de Kerangal’s faction Mend the Living (tr Jessica Moore) as the best extended metaphors I reviewed this year. Turning Blue, Benjamin Myers, very grim & Yorkshire upland; Underlands, Ted Neild, very geology. Permitted and Forbidden Stories, Valeria Ugazio. The Messiah of Stockholm, Cynthia Ozick and–speaking of massively clever & entertaining–Adam Roberts’ The Thing Itself.

Books I meant to read but didn’t get round to: Ishiguru, The Buried Giant.

Most disappointing re-read, JB Priestley, Saturn Over the Water–loved that book when I was young, should have left it there. Best re-read, LP Hartley’s The Go Between, another blast from the deep past (of which I seem to have more & more these days). Opened out more and contained more and told me more about myself than it did when I read it in 1966 or whenever.

The most dangerous reads this year were women. The last few pages of Amy Liptrot’s The Outrun made me cry. The whole of Olivia Laing, but especially The Lonely City, reminded me of more things than I wanted to know. & if you haven’t read it yet, Lara Pawson’s This Is the Place to Be will leave you in shock–seriously, men haven’t written like this for decades. OK, she’s my friend, and we all know her here: but it’s true.

not made in 2011

Note made in 2011:

“I began to feel as if I had learned a lesson in a language I didn’t–-but might soon–-understand. It had something to do with how you are in the world, how you control, or don’t, its access to you. In the light of that, conflicts between characters would be viewed less directly, less in black and white, and seen as less important because they are less conflicts than failed attempts at co-operation. The horror would be located in the ideological fabric of the constructed “world”, while the characters did their best to be human without understanding how they were failing. That was the big idea I was going to take away from 2009, anyway: but because Empty Space wasn’t the best vehicle for an understanding like that, it only shows through in patches and little bits of testbedding. And because I haven’t been working hard enough on short stories, nothing has come of it. I have to file the lesson under ‘ephemeral’. I feel as if I wasted a chance. It’s frustrating to know that something important won’t now find the kind of articulation that led to Climbers or Things That Never Happen.”

Well, wrong. I went back to testing, wrote more short stories, and now this book, though it’s not half the book I imagined in 2009, looks as if it will do the job.

we’re all back from the dead

we’re all back from the dead now
even those of us who were alive to start with
so there’s no point you standing there on the one leg
flapping your arms that way
the building, the bars, the unfortunate street
this whole picture’s uncompromisingly cursed
and whatever you do you will not become a “story”


notes for a debriefing

Don’t say: “Riding my intelligent cool-looking polar bear to do battle with evil.”
Do say: “The arctic sea-ice isn’t freezing this year.”

Don’t say: “Dog with head-balancing skills becomes star.”
Do say: “We blew antibiotics.”

Don’t say: “Swipe it straight into your mouth.”
Do say: “Pence at Hamilton was theatre in the theatre, a deft, clinical reframing of the opposition’s theatrical space, utilising the media as proscenium.

My review of Christopher Priest’s haunting new novel The Gradual, up at the TLS today.

I thought I might just reblog this once a year at around the appropriate time

…then, after a wonderful morning at the cenotaph we decided to go for a walk in the woods, which was rather spoiled by their being so muddy underfoot & our meeting a man not wearing a poppy. After Father had pointed out to him the disrespect inherent in this gesture, what did he do but harangue us for half an hour about some complicated political grudge he held? In the end, Father, indicating each of us in turn, gently asked him if he thought it right to bully innocent women and children in this way, & that seemed to be enough to calm him down; though he remained rough & humourless. Little Jenny, only eight years old, cleverly got his address from him, as a result of which, later, we were able to report him to the police.

Originally blogged November 9th 2015, as “the next war”. Last year, this still seemed to have elements of humour, now [shrugs].

the missing

As soon as I start watching it I’m exhausted. Something about the way the scenes are overweighted with meaning–implications of subtexts which the material itself is simply too ordinary to support–almost as if, through editing & dubbed dialogue, someone has tried to write a more interesting story on to the unfolding images. Some of it, I know, is that I don’t really care about any of the characters in what’s just a TV thriller bloated up to “significance”. Some of it is because I don’t understand why the returned girl has to look like someone’s mistaken memory of a zombie from the vastly superior Les Revenants. Some of it is because I don’t understand why the investigation of a civilian kidnapping in Europe should be led by the UK military, except to centralise and pump up the UK military in the eyes of UK viewers. And when people call it “the best of British drama” I think: yes, overloaded, overacted & convinced of its own importance in the face of the evidence.