I have been privileged to read some great novels in recent weeks, as I took my nano-sabbatical and received this past week front from a third bout of the labyrinthitis/vertigo that first hit me after a small exploratory operation last year. All appealed in different ways. Rhett have included: Ghost Fleet by P.W. Singer and August Cole, The Ends of the Earth by Robert Goddard, and The Interrogator by Andrew Williams, his first novel.
The Last Pilot, which I finished this afternoon, is Benjamin Johncock’s first novel, and I’d be tempted to put it at the head of the list. The story of an X-15 test pilot and astronaut in the early days of the race for the Moon, the book is also an extraordinary account of the ups and downs of astronaut Jim Harrison’s wife, Grace.
The arc of the story was clear to me early on, because counter-intuitive, but the outcome still took a surprising trajectory – and the ending gives the astronauts’ eye view of the Earthrise images sent back from Apollo 8. These images, for me, have been a visual leitmotif, with all the aesthetic appeal of a cathedral’s rose window, but with (for me at least) an even more profound existential significance.
Apart from the Harrisons’ daughter, Florence, the key character for me was Pancho Barnes. A wonderfully powerful portrayal of an extraordinary woman. In my mind’s eye, she was a version of Gertrude Stein as played by Kathy Bates in Midnight in Paris.