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The North Water by Ian McGuire

The North Water (2016)

by Ian McGuire

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Showing 1-5 of 61 (next | show all)
I have a five chapter policy where I give every book a chance up to five chapters. I got through to chapter 9 and couldn't read it anymore. I'm not sure how this book received four stars since I had a difficult time reading the very beginning even. It could be the details of such unsettling events or the obscure writing, but I disliked this book. When I originally read the book description, I thought I was going to go on a great whaling adventure, but found myself dreading what could happen next. ( )
  Aestark325 | Jun 9, 2018 |
The North Water is a violent, brutal novel, but also a beautifully written one. Here's a quote: "The ache he feels is his body speaking its needs, talking to him—sometimes a whisper, sometimes a mumble, sometimes a shriek. It never goes silent; if it ever goes silent then he will know that he is finally dead..."

The story is about Patrick Sumner, a British, army surgeon who lost his position due to a combination of bad decisions and bad luck. His options are so limited he signs up as a medic on a whaling ship with a crew that has more than its share of corrupt sailors. Henry Drax is one of the harpooners and a brutal man, willing to do anything for a chance at riches. What plays out is both upsetting and fascinating.

Steve Lindahl author of Hopatcong Vision Quest, White Horse Regressions, and Motherless Soul ( )
  SteveLindahl | May 10, 2018 |
WOW, what a story. It's like a punch in the solar plexus.

The North Water follows Irish surgeon Patrick Sumner on board an ill-fated whaler outfitted with murderers and corruptibles in 1857. Sumner himself has a tormented past and is using The Voyager to flee from his sins. Little does he know that worse things are aboard the ship than he could have ever faced on land. When all other whalers are heading south to chase their quarry, The Voyager heads farther north, into pack ice and madness.

There are no bonny, sea-weathered blokes having a gam in this book. This story is all murderous plotting and barbarism. Based on the true accounts I've read from actual whalers, McGuire's fiction isn't far off the mark.

At less than 300 pages, The North Water is a quick read, but the pacing is, at times, too inconsistent. In some parts I was just starting to feel the desperation, the isolation, the grueling, unfathomable cold, and McGuire moved on. I wanted more story with Sumner's bear hunt and more time with the Yaks, but I was also content that McGuire didn't linger too long. I'm not one to advocate filler, so I appreciate that McGuire kept the story moving. The descriptions of the grime, the tortuous ship, the starvation and deprivation are impressive. The environment on The Voyager is all viscera, excreta, and blood. This may sound gruesome, but it couldn't have been better. His word choice is enviable. I found myself highlighting single words in order to later applaud their specificity. I think my vocabulary increased seven-fold.

The North Water is gory, bloody, corporeal. If you're at all squeamish, as in "can't handle Tarantino films," then this is not for you. Unlike some readers, I didn't find the brutality and violence overbearing at all. This book requires it, or it wouldn't work. A story set in the 19th century about a psychologically-tormented, drug-addicted surgeon aboard a cursed ship full of pedophillic murders and mutinous traitors isn't going to be full of cupcakes and rainbows. I for, one, enjoyed it enormously. If you have the stomach for it, dive in. You won't regret it.

Many thanks to NetGalley and Henry Holt & Co. for this advance copy. This review is also posted on flyleafunfurled.com ( )
  ErickaS | May 2, 2018 |
(9.5)If you can survive the brutality of the first chapter, then read on. This book features superb language that had this reader reaching for the dictionary. The brutality doesn't diminish but the storyline had me reading far into the night. The whaling ships of the 19th century were no place for the faint-hearted. ( )
  HelenBaker | Mar 1, 2018 |
The Volunteer is a ship full of secrets. The surgeon is hiding a tattered reputation from his army days. The owner of the ship is plotting insurance fraud. And one of the harpooners is an instinct-driven killer. The North Water is the story of the ship’s last voyage to the waters around Greenland, and of the fates of the various crew members.

This is a hyper-masculine book; women really only exist as prostitutes in port or as members of the local Greenland population. The book is also brutally visceral in its description of the production of bodily fluids and of sexual encounters (one such encounter in the first chapter nearly made me put down the book unfinished, because of its seeming gratuitousness).

I was perhaps especially attuned to the grossness of the men in this book because I had just finished reading Mary Beard’s book Women & Power: A Manifesto. The masculinity on show in this book is probably period-appropriate, and the book was tightly plotted and told (how often do you see a novel under 300 pages these days?), so I don’t regret reading it—but I also don’t regret borrowing it from the library instead of buying it.

I’d recommend pairing this with a book such as Nathaniel Philbrick’s book about the whaleship Essex, or perhaps a book set in the same period but with more focus on women’s lives, to balance out the masculine. ( )
  rabbitprincess | Feb 4, 2018 |
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amazon ca :Behold the man: stinking, drunk, and brutal. Henry Drax is a harpooner on the Volunteer, a Yorkshire whaler bound for the rich hunting waters of the arctic circle. Also aboard for the first time is Patrick Sumner, an ex-army surgeon with a shattered reputation, no money, and no better option than to sail as the ship's medic on this violent, filthy, and ill-fated voyage.

In India, during the Siege of Delhi, Sumner thought he had experienced the depths to which man can stoop. He had hoped to find temporary respite on the Volunteer, but rest proves impossible with Drax on board. The discovery of something evil in the hold rouses Sumner to action. And as the confrontation between the two men plays out amid the freezing darkness of an arctic winter, the fateful question arises: who will survive until spring?

With savage, unstoppable momentum and the blackest wit, Ian McGuire's The North Water weaves a superlative story of humanity under the most extreme conditions.
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The Volunteer, a nineteenth-century Yorkshire whaling ship, becomes the stage for a confrontation between brutal harpooner Henry Drax and ex-army surgeon Patrick Sumner, the ship's medic, during a violent, ill-fated voyage to the Arctic.

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