Ascent to Omai

Wilson Harris’s ninth novel, first published in 1970, is a work of the most revolutionary and far-reaching kind of science or speculative fiction. In it time and space are truly elastic, so that events in recent time become part of remote geological time and the boundaries between events and remembering, individual persons and different locations are fluid and permeable. Victor is in search of his father, Adam, once a revolutionary worker who was sent to prison many years ago for burning down the factory he worked in. Since then Victor has lost touch with him, but suspects he is living as a pork-knocker (gold prospector) in the remote Cuyuni-Mazaruni district of Guyana – now the site of one of the largest open-cast goldmines in the world and the site of immense environmental degradation. Prophetically, the clash between the material/technological and the primordial/spiritual is one of the intercutting themes of the novel, connecting to the El Doradean myth so central to the Guyanese imagining.

As he climbs in search of his father, Victor both revisits his past relationship with him and replays his father’s trial, which also becomes his own, in a way that echoes the "Nighttown" episode of Ulysses, though unlike Bloom’s. Victor’s offences are not sexual, but represent blockages in the openness of his thinking. Victor’s search is for spiritual grace, for the compensations of love and the glimmerings of a true understanding of the world he exists in, though Harris refuses to “impose a false coherency upon material one had to digest” and the reader is invited to share in Victor’s struggling ascent to consciousness, knowing that it can never be other than provisional.



Publication Date

April 2018


Ascent to Omai on the Peepal Tree website