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The Surfacing by Cormac James

The Surfacing

by Cormac James

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When I started reading this book, it frankly didn't interest me that much, but the more I read, the more I found I could not put the book down. I knew very little about the ships lost during the search for the Northwest Passage, and James inspired me to do some research to learn more. I can imagine through the writing how quiet it must have been, except for the cracking and shifting of the ice. I was only displeased with the ending. Maybe I missed some hint, but the book just seemed to end. ( )
  hobbitprincess | Apr 19, 2019 |
Cormac James tells the story of the dangerous 1850 voyage of the Impetus, which sailed north of Greenland to find and rescue men who’d been lost while searching for the Northwest Passage. The story is told from the viewpoint of Impetus’s second in command, Mr. Morgan, and his doubts about the judgment of their captain are growing. Captain Myer has a monomaniacal desire to push on, even though it’s late in the season, and his ship risks being trapped in the ice.
It’s ice and snow and wind and water and more ice everywhere. Such conditions might seem likely to become rather tedious, but James surprises with his inventiveness and acute perception, expressed in beautiful prose.
Despite conditions, there’s good humor among the crew, especially between Morgan and his friend, the ship’s doctor. The woman with whom Morgan had a dalliance in their last port-of-call has been smuggled on board, pregnant, and he must contend not just with an incompetent captain and implacable weather, but with the unexpected pull of fatherhood.
The conditions so far north put everyone to the test. As the darkness of another winter descends, they must each face their fate in their own way. ( )
  Vicki_Weisfeld | Apr 11, 2019 |
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 |
Showing 1-5 of 23 (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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"An extraordinary novel, combining a powerful narrative with a considered and poetic use of language. Reading the book, I recalled the dramatic natural landscape of Jack London and the wild untamed seas of William Golding." -JOHN BOYNE, author of The Boy in the Striped Pajamas and A History of Loneliness "The great topic of Cormac James' The Surfacing is the reach of human possibility. The prose is calm, vivid, hypnotic, and acutely piercing. James is attuned to the psychological moment: this is a book about fatherhood and all its attendant terrors. It's a remarkable achievement." -COLUM McCANN, author of Let the Great World Spin and Transatlantic "Cormac James' writing is very assured, with a harsh poetic edge. His evocations of barren landscape, sea weather, pack ice, and frozen skies are powerful and compelling." -ROSE TREMAIN, author of Music & Silence and Merivel: A Man of His Time Far from civilization, on the hunt for Sir John Franklin's recently lost Northwest Passage expedition, Lieutenant Morgan and his crew find themselves trapped in ever-hardening Arctic ice that threatens to break apart their ship. When Morgan realizes that a stowaway will give birth to his child in the frozen wilderness, he finds new clarity and courage to lead his men across a bleak expanse as shifting, stubborn, and treacherous as human nature itself. A harrowing tale of psychological fortitude against impossible odds, The Surfacing is also a beautifully told story of one man's transformative journey toward fatherhood. Cormac James was born in Cork, Ireland, and lives in Montpellier, France, with his wife and son. The Surfacing is his North American debut novel. "--"Seeking Franklin's lost expedition and threatened by crushing Arctic ice, the Impetus lieutenant discovers a stowaway, pregnant with his child"--… (more)

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