What’s The Balloon Hoax all about?:
The Balloon Hoax is a story about four men who attempt to cross the Atlantic for the first time in a balloon.
What did I think?:
Oh dear. I am honestly beginning to wonder if it’s “just me,” with this particular short story collection. I haven’t had the best of luck with the stories I’ve read so far and I was kind of dreading reading this, my expectations being well and truly quashed. Did it live up to my expectations. Yes, well my expectations were low so I suppose it did! I’m glad to discover however, that I’m not the only person to feel this way. The story on its own has some of the lowest ratings on Goodreads that I’ve ever seen for a book which was kind of surprising but not so much if you read the story, you’ll understand what I’m talking about. Saying that, I always like to do a bit of research into the author or their short story before I write my review and I really enjoyed reading the history behind this short tale. It’s just a shame that’s the only thing that I enjoyed.
The story now known as The Balloon Hoax first appeared in The Sun newspaper in New York, April 1844. It follows our main character, Monck Mason and a number of other gentlemen as they attempt to fly a balloon first across the British Channel and then, when they are blown off course, eventually manage to get across the Atlantic Ocean in a mere three days. The story goes into incredible details about the mechanics of building the balloon – the vanes, the fuel, the propeller etc and as it references real people such as William Harrison Ainsworth which many people thought gave Poe’s story some authenticity. Poe himself was astounded at the reception his story received once published in the paper, indeed there were claims that the newspaper office was “besieged” by people wanting to get their hands on copies of the paper. The paper itself ended up having to print a retraction a couple of days later:
BALLOON – The mails from the South last Saturday night not having brought a confirmation of the arrival of the Balloon from England, the particulars of which from our correspondent we detailed in our Extra, we are inclined to believe that the intelligence is erroneous. The description of the Balloon and the voyage was written with a minuteness and scientific ability calculated to obtain credit everywhere, and was read with great pleasure and satisfaction. We by no means think such a project impossible.
As to more of a synopsis of what happens in this story, I’m afraid I can’t help very much in that regard. About half of the story describes the mechanics of the balloon in question, the other half are journal entries from the main voyagers describing what they see or do on a particular day of the quest. Perhaps the most exciting part of the narrative is when the men get blown off course by a strong current and decide to change their journey and tackle the Atlantic instead of the British Channel (obviously a mammoth undertaking when you compare the size of the two areas of water!).
Apart from that, they see some ships, they comment on the sky and the scenery below them….however they really lost me when they starting talking about the perpendicular of a right-angled triangle and the hypotenuse in relation to the balloon. Nope, mathematics is not my strong suit. My main issue however, and I think I might have mentioned this in my other Poe reviews is the amount of detail he obviously feels obliged to go into. I find it really unnecessary and terribly dull to read and I could almost feel my eyes glazing over as every minute detail of the propeller and screws of the balloon was described. Yawn. When I’m writing a perhaps more critical/negative review like this, I do feel the need to find something positive to say about what I’ve read. Yet with The Balloon Hoax I have to admit, I’m struggling. The journal entries were kind of interesting I guess, and I appreciated the change in narrative structure after paragraphs upon paragraphs of intricate information about vanes and coal versus hydrogen gas. Nevertheless, this won’t be a story I’ll be returning to or recommending to my nearest and dearest.
Would I recommend it?:
Star rating (out of 5):
NEXT SHORT STORY: Dibblespin by Angela Slatter from the collection Sourdough And Other Stories.