cover image Orbital


Samantha Harvey. Grove, $27 (208p) ISBN 978-0-8021-6154-3

Harvey’s beautiful latest (after The Western Wind) follows a space station’s six crew members as they orbit Earth over the course of a nine-month mission. The crew members study the effects of microgravity on the body, report on Earth storms from their unique vantage point, and conduct experiments to learn about the effects of space on flammability, gardening, and human muscle use. Among the crew are Chie, who receives news that her mother has died back home in Japan. As the shuttle continues on its orbit, she dreads their return to Earth—she doesn’t want to go back to a world where her mother is gone. Meanwhile, Shaun, an American astronaut who first wanted to be a fighter pilot, debates the existence of God with Nell, a British meteorologist, and they each point to the wondrous infinity of space as evidence of their opposing viewpoints. Recurring quotidian scenes drive the action—the toilet is always breaking and in need of fixing—and though Harvey carefully distinguishes each crew member, their reflections on their love for space and their shared activities lend a sense of cohesion. Harvey suggests that her characters all share various abstract ideas about the planet, which she conveys with lovely lyrical prose (“Its beauty echoes —its beauty is its echoing, its ringing singing lightness. It’s not peripheral and it’s not the centre; it’s not everything and it’s not nothing, but it seems much more than something”). This gorgeous meditation leaves readers feeling as if they’re floating in the same “dark unswimmable sea.” (Dec.)