Pandora's Galley

by MacDonald Harris. New York: Harcourt Brace & Jovanovich, Incl, 1979. Also London: Victor Gollancz Ltd., 1980.

From the Jacket:

Venice in 1797. The fire of revolution is consuming Europe, and the armies of Bonaparte approach. In this old city full of grandeur and shadows, the rich gamble and go to concerts, gondoliers croon Tasso, the senile Doge poses in his toga; all prefer to pretend nothing is happening. But, from the Lido only three miles away, there is the grumble of gunfire, and we are immediately caught up in a mysterious adventure. An American captain who is a mercenary in the Venetian Navy, an English girl who is carrying something on her person, a French agent who is pretending to be a musician--or is it the other way around? Nothing can be relied on for certain in this mesmerizing novel, except that the story unfolds smoothly and effortlessly, like a sailor's yarn, in a setting of brilliant, enamel-like clarity.

Into this historical fiction come a rich tone and a mature complexity of feeling that designate MacDonald Harris as a writer at the height of his powers. Here, indeed,is one of those rare novels whose romance enhances its distinction, whose excellence is handmaiden to its dash. Against the backdrop of warfare and diplomacy, religion and madness, MacDonald Harris has created a love story charged with erotic suspense. Its principle characters are Malcolm Langrish, mercenary captain of the Pandora, taciturn, solid, canny; the English girl, Winifred, striking rather than pretty, gamine and game, first Malcolm's prisoner, then the source of his consternation; Jean-Marie, the elegant Frenchman with a mind so supple that it cannot be firm; and Zulietta, the courtesan, who may be an image of Venice itself. And Venice is a vital and important presence in the book--a gilded and marvelous artifact, as insubstantial as spun sugar, yet with the realityi of those cities we recognize not because they exist, but because we have inhabited them in recurring dreams.

Pandora's Galley elegance, richness, and sweep clearly proclaim that it is MacDonald Harris' most important novel. In it, as in The Balloonist, (nominated for the National Book Award in fiction), and Yukiko, MacDonald Harris has taken the materials of history and love and fashioned a remarkable work of art.

Critical Acclaim for Pandora's Galley

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