A novel that snapshots one day in the lives of six women and men hurtling through space—not towards the moon or the vast unknown, but around our planet. Selected for one of the last space station missions of its kind before the program is dismantled, these astronauts and cosmonauts have left their lives behind to travel at a speed of over seventeen thousand miles an hour as the earth reels below.
Samantha Harvey, one of the most consistently surprising contemporary British novelists, becomes something like the cosmic artificer of our era with her slim, enormous novel Orbital, which imaginatively constructs the day-to-day lives of six astronauts aboard the International Space Station. Orbital is the strangest and most magical of projects, not least because it’s barely what most people would call a novel but performs the kind of task that only a novel could dare. It’s barely a novel because it barely tells a plotted set of human stories, and the stories it does tell barely interact with one another....But this minimal fictionality is not really the point; it’s merely the ransom paid to the genre in order to resemble the novelistic. The point is everything else: the almost unimaginable unworldliness of the situation ... The real point of Orbital is the demonstration of how a writer might capture this spectacular strangeness in language adequate to the spectacle. And how she might do so with fitting surplus, in ways that surpass the more orderly permissions of journalism and nonfictional prose. Harvey, writing like a kind of Melville of the skies, finds that fitting surplus again and again.
Harvey’s meditative novel portraying life aboard a spacecraft contains on almost every page sentences so gorgeous that you want to put down the book in awe ... Harvey, the author of four previous novels, expertly compensates for the absence of a conventional plot by immersing us in the drama of the stars ... All too plausible undercurrents in Harvey’s magnificent river of words. Yet Orbital is ultimately a thrilling book, filled with marvel at the beauty of creation made palpable in bravura descriptions.
Poetic ... The book is ravishingly beautiful. It is also nearly free of plot ... It contains the world but fails to reflect it. Harvey lavishes the planet with her considerable rhetorical gifts, but the recklessness and miseries we know at pavement level have been scrubbed from her observation deck. It is all angels above, devils below.