The North Water

The North Water

A Novel

Book - 2016
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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.
Publisher: New York : Henry Holt and Company, 2016
ISBN: 9781627795944
Characteristics: 255 p. ; 25 cm


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May 20, 2020

Good adventure yarn set largely in arctic Canada. Sometimes made me think that the author was trying to sound like Cormac McCarthy. Otherwise, quite enjoyable.

Jan 05, 2020

A good book, if not very original. Bibliocommons suggested this as a readalike for Dan Simmons' masterpiece The Terror. An apt suggestion, since this book is trying hard to be The Terror. Patrick Sumner is a passable stand-in for Crozier. This time he's addicted to laudanum and haunted by his past instead of an alcoholic haunted by his past. Unfortunately, the villian Henry Drax cannot hold a candle to Simmons' Hickey. Henry Drax is a caricature of pure evil, with no motivations, no backstory, no development. To show us how evil he is, Drax beats and rapes a twelve year old boy about ten pages into the book. We never learn anything else about him, just more atrocities. Sumner is the only fleshed-out character. Perhaps half a dozen men on the ship are even named, including the main characters. Whereas Simmons offers a rich, compelling character study, McGuire's focus is on the action. He certainly delivers in this quick, suspenseful novel, but ultimately cannot possibly live up to its inspiration.

Nov 01, 2019

I didn't think I was faint hearted but it appears I am. A previous review said I would know by the end of the 1st chapter & he was right. I usually go 3 chapters before I quit but I didn't like Henry Drax nor Patrick Sumner & I didn't want to be stuck on a boat in the North sea with either of them so I finished at the end of the 1st one.

Mar 17, 2019

Previous commenters have warned plenty about the grisly, not-for-the-faint-of-heart nature of this story. You'll know if you can handle it right away after the first chapter. However, if you like no nonsense and beautiful writing (yes, gore and degenerateness can be written beautifully) you will find this book a very engaging and enjoyable read. Not a wasted sentence in pretty much the whole thing. If you're the type that likes to look up words for clarification or education then you will love it. Keep that dictionary handy (literally every other minute). I thought the culmination of the story slightly not up to my expectations, simply, because the rest of it set such a high bar. I'm a very slow reader, but I made lots of cafe/reading time on my days off to burn through this. My favorite read in the last five years.

SnoIsleLib_AlyssaS Jan 15, 2019

Gritty in the extreme, this fast-paced and highly descriptive adventure thriller is about the perverse and troubled characters aboard a doomed whaling ship rather than about whaling itself. Like Cormac McCarthy in the Arctic, this is a good bet for fans of stories like The Revenant, but not for the squeamish. A BBC miniseries is said to be in the works for 2019.

Sep 27, 2018

This is a rip-roaring adventure story and I found it very entertaining. Be warned that it is written in a very graphic and often crude way that fills the reader's head with the most vivid imagery. It is part of what makes it such a good read but it is definitely not for the sensitive soul.

Best you have a strong stomach as you read this gruesome tale of whaling in the Davis Strait. While the depictions of working-class life in the North-East is unflinchingly accurate and well-researched, I was deeply frustrated with the depictions of Inuit. McGuire's work has been compared to Joseph Conrad and I am inclined to agree, both use Indigenous peoples a literary devices rather than taking the time to learn about the culture in any nuanced way. I had hoped for better considering how well depicted whaling life was. Chinua Achebe in his iconic critique of Conrad worte: "Conrad saw and condemned the evil of imperial exploitation but was strangely unaware of the racism on which it sharpened its iron tooth. But the victims of racist slander who for centuries have had to live with the inhumanity it makes them heir to have always known better than any casual visitor even when he comes loaded with the gifts of a Conrad. " Too bad McGuire doesn't even take the time to frame the colonial foundations of whaling in the Canadian North.

Mar 02, 2018

NYT book review summed it up best: picture a meeting between Joseph Conrad and Cormac McCarthy in some run-down port as they offer each other a long, sour nod of recognition.

susankent Jan 29, 2018

The many great qualities of this novel give it wide appeal; from the suspense-filled plot to the fascinating character of Sumner, it has all the makings of a classic!

Jan 13, 2018

The North Water by Ian McGuire with it’s vivid descriptions, foul smells and dangerous situations is one of the most visceral novels I have read. The story includes episodes of rape, animal cruelty and murder, all revealed with an excess of gore and violence and elevated by the author’s excellent writing and character development. I loved this unflinching tale of men at their basest level.

This book takes an unsparing look at men as they battle both the elements and each other and if you can handle a dark tale full of carnage and bloodshed then I would recommend The North Water as an excellent read.

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