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The North Water by Ian McGuire

The North Water (2016)

by Ian McGuire

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If you ever wondered what it was like being on an Arctic whaling expedition in the late 19th century, this will shed some light. It's not factual, but reads authentically. The main characters represent the worst of man, and the better (not best or perfect) of man. No one is without sin in McGuire's world, no one is above the baser urges.

Life is harsh, dirty, foul, unforgiving in The North Water. Depictions of brutal violence abound. This is not a story for those with a weak stomach. Vivid descriptions of various afflictions suffered by the crew of the whaler are poetically and fully given.

The North Water is not an easy book to enjoy, for little in it is pleasant. It is though a powerful tale, masterfully told and quite unforgettable. ( )
1 vote Dave82 | Aug 29, 2019 |
An unremittingly brutal novel, pervaded by doom. I found it compelling.

The protagonist is an opium-addled Irish surgeon (nod to Stephen Maturin), disgraced and disfigured by his less-than-creditable service in the suppression of the Sepoy Mutiny, who ships on a doomed whaler bound for Greenland in the final days of the whaling trade. The villain, a harpooner, is a force of nature. The main villain, of course, is nature. There is casual murder, premeditated murder, rape, theft, robbery, maulings, privation, shipwreck, disease, insurance fraud, and all manner of brutality to men, boys, and beasts. All good fun.

Colm Toibin: “‘The North Water’ feels like the result of an encounter between Joseph Conrad and Cormac McCarthy in some run-down port as they offer each other a long, sour nod of recognition.” I do think that this is easier to stomach than McCarthy. ( )
1 vote k6gst | Mar 19, 2019 |
In looking for something different and a little outside our comfort zone, this month’s read has stretched the limits for all of us. The North Water is without a doubt a confrontational read. It drags you into a world that you would never want to enter (given the choice), yet as readers we willing take the journey and the suffering, along with the characters.
Most of our members agreed on these observations; intriguing, dark, graphic, well-written, provocative and challenging. There are no redeeming characters, the cruelty and greed is overwhelming, and the extreme violence devastating. Yet, the majority of us could not put this book down. Some found the more violently graphic parts needed to be quickly read over or skipped altogether, but overall they found themselves totally engrossed within the story. The hostile environment certainly contributed to the drama, along with the human and natural conflicts. Most of us will never experience such isolation and danger, yet McGuire does an admirable job of making you wonder exactly how you would survive such an ordeal.
Is it possible to enjoy a book with such bleak and sinister content? We had a good discussion on just what makes a book ‘enjoyable’, and what do we look for in a good read. Does every character and every plot have to conform to our amiable senses? When talking literature, we decided that well-written, thought out storylines and realistic language and characters far more important than ‘keeping things affable’. The real question is … how far are you willing to travelling outside our own comfort zone for a good read? ( )
1 vote jody12 | Mar 19, 2019 |
If it accomplishes anything, it paints a gruesome picture of a certain segment of society at the tail end of the whaling boom. The writing is artful in it's brutality but it's challenging to find a purpose for that brutality. It feels a bit like an action movie with little to say about the true motivations of man. ( )
1 vote alexezell | Nov 14, 2018 |
This is a brutal book, on all levels. Obviously it's brutal in the action (e.g., people's heads being sawn off), and in the plot (insurance fraud and shipwrecks in the frigid north). The language and metaphors are often brutal, though often too elaborate and beautiful. The characters are brutal, as are the themes and symbolism. To some extent, this last part made the book less interesting—the book should be harsh to read, not brutally obvious. It feels too easy, which contradicts the thematic brutality. I guess McGuire felt the need to keep it straight and honest, which I can respect. ( )
  breic | Oct 23, 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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