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The Surfacing by Cormac James
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The Surfacing

by Cormac James

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This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
I received this in early 2015 as an Early Reviewer. I can't really give it any stars as I couldn't finish it, I kept on getting stuck somewhere around pages 20-30, would put it down, try it again in a few weeks, forget everything and have to go back. It was just ... boring. Lack of punctuated dialogue, perhaps (which worked well in Cormac McCarthy's The Road and I think parts of Emma Donaghue's The Room if I'm remembering correctly)? Odd since I usually enjoy tales of suffering and adventure and it's quite bothersome that I can't quite put my finger on why it proved impossible to capture my attention.
  spuriouscarrie | Jan 17, 2016 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
Over the years I have read a number of books, fiction and non-fiction, that concerned the search for the lost Franklin Expedition. I have always found it fascinating to read about the lengths people have gone to in the most challenging circumstances to find traces of Franklin and all the crew of his two ships, the Erebus and the Terror. Of course, we now know that Franklin headed west and south of his wintering spot on Beechey Island. In fact, Parks Canada found the Erebus on the bottom of Victoria Strait near King William Island in 2014. However in the 1850s it was thought that Franklin went north from Beechey Island and that was where the search concentrated. This book is an account of a fictional ship, the Impetus, which took part in the search starting in 1850.

The second in command of the Impetus was Lieutenant Morgan of Anglo Irish ancestry. He seems to have joined the expedition as much to get away from his family as for the adventure. When the Impetus put into Disko Harbour on Greenland Morgan became friendly with the governor's unmarried sister, Kitty. While the other officers and the governor were away on a short trip Morgan and Kitty fell into bed together. To Morgan it was a matter of no importance. He was thus astonished when, three weeks after leaving Disko, the chaplain informed him that Kitty was on board and was expecting his child. Morgan was sure Kitty was shamming and he was determined to get her off the Impetus as soon as possible. Despite his best efforts Kitty remained on board. When the ship got stuck in the ice beyond where any other ship had ventured Kitty gave birth to Morgan's son. To his amazement Morgan became besotted with his child. Thereafter his actions were couched in terms of what would be best for his son.

I wanted to like this book but it just did not grab my attention. There were sections that were quite gripping but they would end suddenly and then a new time period would start up with little mention of what went before. Kitty's role was never developed; she remained a cardboard mother figure throughout the book. There were some promising secondary characters such as Dr. DeHaven and the French cook, Cabot, but they could not redeem that disconnectedness of the main story.

If you want to read about the search for Franklin I can recommend both The Arctic Grail by Pierre Berton and Race to the Polar Sea by Ken McGoogan. For a modern and fictional take on the quest check out Darkness at the Stroke of Noon by Dennis Murphy ( )
  gypsysmom | Dec 15, 2015 |
This is a consuming book about life on the edge of life, life on the edge of death. When you stand at that edge, there is not much difference between the two.
In the 1850s, the Impetus sets out into the Arctic. It is part of a rescue party to find the missing Franklin expedition. Delays on shore, including parties and flirtation with the local girls on Greenland, mean the ship is late at the muster and is assigned the most difficult sector to search. Part way into their journey, they discover a stowaway. This woman changes the life of everyone on board, particularly second in charge Lieutenant Morgan. At first she is an intruder in their male world, then she is a nuisance, but finally they accept Miss Rink as one of them. And all the time, winter draws in and the ice clamps around their boat. And Miss Rink is pregnant.
They are caught in the ice for the winter. Ice is a character in the novel; it moves, it seems to breath, it thaws and re-freezes. Their lives depend on the ice. The options are endlessly reviewed, always tempered by the thought that they – the rescuers – are in need of rescuing themselves. And if they were, by some miracle this far north, to stumble on Franklin, would they be able to help the stranded crew?
I felt myself drawn into their daily lives, the need for routine and tasks in the long dark freezing cold days when there is nothing to do. The French cook made me smile, he promises them feasts at mealtimes and serves up mush. And all the time, the story is told by Morgan. His difficulties with Captain Myer, his friend Doctor DeHaven, and with Miss Rink.
Will they survive? Will they discover Franklin, or will they in turn be rescued? This is a wonderful novel, a very different read for me. The Arctic has such a presence, James describes the sea, the ice, the barren mountains and the extreme weather, with language at the same time poetic and powerful. Above all, it is a story of fatherhood as Morgan slowly accepts that Miss Rink’s child is his. In the midst of danger, trapped by the ice which pushes their boat so high above the ice’s surface that it must be supported by wooden posts, a new life is born.
Read more of my book reviews @ http://www.sandradanby.com/ ( )
  Sandradan1 | Oct 31, 2015 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
I received this book for free from Early Reviewers. I made it to page 41. This book is about a crew aboard a ship trying to find and rescue a downed boat.

For the rest of the review, visit my blog at: http://angelofmine1974.livejournal.com/95978.html ( )
  booklover3258 | Sep 9, 2015 |
I have a fascination for snow and ice. I don't particularly want to live in them full time (or even beyond the first driveway shoveling, if truth be told) but there's something very appealing about them in the abstract. Antarctica is on my bucket list. So are those ice hotels in Finland or Sweden. I am captivated by books about polar expeditions and their fates. The frozen North (or South) land calls to me. So I was fully prepared for Cormac James' newest novel, The Surfacing, a tale about a ship and its crew searching for the lost Franklin expedition to enchant me. I wanted to love this book in all its frozen glory. Unfortunately, it made me feel beaten down, like I always felt after a long, grueling winter when spring should be imminent but is still out of sight, hidden by dirty, monotonous banks of snow.

In 1850, a fleet of ships headed for the Arctic in a bid to find and possibly even rescue the lost Franklin expedition. One of the ships searching, the Impetus, needed repairs after a short trip north and had to return to Greenland for a time. While the ship is in harbor, the first officer, Richard Morgan, thinks little of a dalliance with the governor's sister, Kitty. But when the ship's captain decides to go out searching again despite it being late in the season for safe travels, Kitty is discovered as a stowaway. And as the long months of the search drag on, it is clear that she is pregnant with Morgan's child. As Morgan comes to grips with what this means both in practical terms and for him emotionally, the Impetus is slowly and irrevocably encased in the ice pack, moving ever further north away from freedom and open water, frozen solid into a moving sheet of solid white.

The book is written as a series of ship's log or journal entries but from a third person perspective, which is a little disconcerting, and there is no punctuation setting off dialogue from exposition. It is separated into two different sections: before the birth of the baby and after with a gap of almost a year in between the two. Morgan as a main character is coming to grips with fatherhood at a time when the only other thing occupying the crew is the daily slog of survival in such a harsh and unforgiving landscape. He is hard to know but is better fleshed out than the other characters, who took a very long time to show any signs of individuality. Without distinguishing characteristics, it is hard for the reader to care about them. Much of the book is like this, with well-constructed passages that unfortunately leave the reader nothing but numb. The interactions between the crew members are reduced to a line here or there, keeping them all distant despite the situation. The lack of plot makes it a struggle to stay engaged with the story and even as a contemplative reflection on fatherhood, the book doesn't quite deliver. The story of Morgan coming to cherish his son might have been more engaging had the year's gap, which allowed the hard work of building this development organically to be avoided, not been present. The story feels minimal and spare and yet still too long what with the unemotional tone and the completely unresolved ending. Perhaps I expected something different from this than the author intended but despite my initial eagerness, rather than a harrowing tale of life in extremis, I found this to be a mostly tedious and disappointing read. ( )
1 vote whitreidtan | Aug 27, 2015 |
Showing 1-5 of 21 (next | show all)
The Arctic and Antarctic have a kind of literary shorthand. The empty polar backdrop forces together such a divergent spectrum of problems that the resultant journeys are always as much about self-discovery as exploration. And so it is for Richard Morgan, the second-in-command of British vessel the Impetus, whose catalyst for redemption isn't the hardship of the environment but a woman named Kitty Rink.
 
The story of Franklin and his gallant crew - unforgettably portrayed in Sinéad O'Connor's haunting version of the traditional song of the same name - caught the imagination of the world at the time and still is remembered today.

Not surprising then that the recent discovery made headlines once again, solving one of history's greatest maritime mysteries.

For Cork-born Cormac James the discovery has imbued his long-awaited second offering with unexpected topicality. His new novel is a fictionalised account of, not the doomed expedition, but the subsequent search for Franklin and his men.
 
It’s been 14 years since Cormac James’s debut novel, Track and Field, and, while it’s not unheard of for a writer to work on a second book over an extended period, expectations can diminish if too much time goes by. Such is the excellence, however, of The Surfacing, a highly original and poetic story of isolation and responsibility upon the sea, that it quickly becomes clear that the Cork-born writer has put his time to good use.
added by Donogh | editThe Irish Times, John Boyne (Oct 18, 2014)
 
So you'd think there might not be much more to say, and in some ways you'd be right. Cormac James's novel is not one to read for the plot, in which a group of European sailors looking for Franklin's expedition get lost in the Arctic with a pregnant stowaway on board. The book begins with the ship, Impetus, taking on provisions and exchanging final communications with the rest of the world at a whaling station in Greenland and progresses painfully north until the Impetus is stuck in pack ice, where it remains. The events of the novel, like the ship, are arrested in a strange and beautiful place where the scene is set for other kinds of change.
added by Donogh | editThe Guardian, Sarah Moss (Oct 18, 2014)
 
It’s based in the 1850s, and set on board The Impetus, the skipper and crew of which are searching for Sir John Franklin’s well-provisioned but lost expedition to the Northwest Passage, between the North Atlantic and the Pacific Oceans. Regarded as the greatest single loss of life of any polar quest, the event remains one of the greatest conundrums of polar exploration.
 
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