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So, if that gives you pause, you will probably want to leave this one alone. For those that push forward, it only gets bleaker. It pits two opposites against each other. The first is Henry Drax, a brutish psychopath whose bloody introduction constitutes the beginning of The North Water. The second is the Irish surgeon Patrick Sumner, a refugee from the Sepoy Mutiny with a troubled pass that nevertheless fails to obscure his fundamental humanism.

Drax and Sumner end up on the Volunteer , which is heading for the Arctic circa for a last hurrah killing whales.

In the dark, foul-smelling confines of the ship, a coarse morality play unfolds. The end-result, in my opinion, is not entirely surprising, and the narrative arcs felt foreordained, but there are some decent twists and turns along the way. The North Water came on scene in riding the crest of a great deal of critical acclaim. In terms of writing, the praise is well deserved.


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McGuire is a very talented. His descriptions are excellent without being impenetrable. The only downside to these marvelous evocations is that McGuire only takes you to terrible places, peopled by consistently nasty characters. The bookshelves of the world are filled with novels that make a study out of hyper-masculinity. Aside from prostitutes, there are few women in sight.

On that level, The North Water only treads water. In general, the dialogue is terse, crude, often quite funny; but when the fellows start gushing about their spiritual leanings and worldviews, all subtlety is lost. The North Water could have been a pulpy period thriller up-jumped by a unique setting. Or it could have been a knottier disquisition on how many layers of humanity must be shed before one can find the soul. Instead of choosing, though, McGuire decides to mix these components together.

So you get something that feels like literary fiction, evolved from a salon, jutting up against the macabre and sadistic, evolved from the gutter. The result is pretty satisfying. Certainly, in terms of quality, it is better than average. Still, with material this grim remember those first nine pages I told you about and characters this hateful, it is real hard to love.


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  • “The North Water”: A Blood-Drenched Tale of Arctic Whalers - Los Angeles Review of Books.
  • View all 4 comments. Shelves: goldilocks-zone , grit-lit , historical-fiction. As a kid, I was a big fan of Mr. I especially loved his Alaskan adventures, which opened my eyes to a place so remote and far removed from my everyday life experiences that it made my head spin. I longed to set a course into that uncharted wilderness. Those books filled me with a wanderlust which still consumes me today. Someday I may hit the road and never look back.

    This is a would-be Jack London at full tilt.

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    This is a no holds barred, savage tale of man vs. It was tremendous while it lasted, and magnificently profitable too. We had twenty-five fucking good years. But the world turns, and. His employer implied as much anyway.

    God knows that is what he needs after the madness of India: the filthy heat, the barbarity, the stench. Whatever the Greenland whaling is like, he thinks, it will surely not be anything like that. Little does he realize that the captain has a hidden agenda, or that one of the crew members is an unrepentant psychopath, with a complete lack of conscience. Truthfully, whaling plays only a minor role. I would say the same for those gruesome animal encounters.

    They seem completely accurate to the era in which this story occurs. The period accurate language and attention to fine detail gave the novel a real sense of time and place. The author clearly put in the research, and it shows. This razor-sharp narrative easily flenses both of those bloated carcasses. View all 34 comments. A very good reading. Gripping and engrossing even if at most times truly gruesome.

    I can see their point. But it doe A very good reading. Yes, there are some expressively rendered protagonists, there is a foul language and whole obscenity imaginable, there is blood, guts and body fluids, there are scents and views that could upset your stomach, there is a ship though its true mission in the course of events is to show rather opposite than most of participants of the voyage were in the first place informed of, there is a whalehunting, and bears, there are rapes and murders and violence, there is cold and ice, and darkness.

    And even more darkness. Yes, The North Water has it all, but if the novel dealt with evil and brutalization and barbarism such an approach and language was in my eyes justified. You may of course disagree with me. Some words about main protagonists. For his opponent is designated doctor Patrick Sumner, a bit shadowy figure, who emerged out of nowhere, from India to tell the truth, and who likes to spend his leisure time in laudanum-induced daze.

    What is he running from?

    Longlisted for the Man Booker Prize

    What does he want to forget about? Against sinister personality and strength of Drax our Doc seems to compare not that commandingly. Sometimes I thought the first one was too diabolique to take him seriously while the second one remained too undeveloped character. From other heroes I'd like to mention yet harpooner Otto, a huge man fascinated with Swedenborg's mysticism and through its lens trying to grasp nature of good and evil and things that happened to hapless sailors through their doomed voyage.

    I thought this novel was stunning and brilliant and stark and absolutely unforgettable reading experience. Both authors seem to think of ruthlessness and cruelty to be immanent attribute of human nature, directed not only at fellow human being but discernible in its approach to animals and nature as well.

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    I love reading about polar expeditions, mountain climbing or ill-fated voyages. And this novel appeared to perform the conditions pretty successfull even though in the last part it seemed to lose some of it initial panache. But if you prefer to avoid in your readings very graphic scenes of violence and abuse this one may not be very suitable for you. View all 23 comments. May 09, Beverly rated it it was amazing.

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    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. My kind of adventure, man against man, under brutal conditions, The North Water had me in its teeth from beginning to end. The psychopath and pedophile Drax against the civilized and down -on-his-luck surgeon Summer are shipping out on a whaler to the Arctic. Each are on the ill-fated ship for similar reasons--it's the last resort for both. To get away from society is their desire, but their likeness ends there, for Drax is a bloodthirsty killer and Sumner only wants to earn cash in his chosen p My kind of adventure, man against man, under brutal conditions, The North Water had me in its teeth from beginning to end.

    To get away from society is their desire, but their likeness ends there, for Drax is a bloodthirsty killer and Sumner only wants to earn cash in his chosen profession, as his military career is no longer an option. It seems as if their meeting is fated to be and only one will live through it. View all 12 comments. Sep 14, Jenny Reading Envy rated it really liked it Shelves: read , booker-winners-and-listed , cold-weather-islands.

    I started this because it was named to the Man Booker Prize longlist in , and I was hearing good things about it from some of my reading friends. Despite not being named to the short list, I decided it was worth finishing. I feel two ways about this novel.

    On the one hand, there is some very violent stuff in this book. Rape and murder and guiltless violence all around.

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    There are frequent derogatory words directed at other races and women. But on the other hand and forgive me but there really I started this because it was named to the Man Booker Prize longlist in , and I was hearing good things about it from some of my reading friends. But on the other hand and forgive me but there really is another hand here!

    Specific, descriptive, captivating writing that pulls you in immediately, into this gritty godless world of mid 19th century whalers and seamen. Compared to the other gritty disturbing unlikeable book that made the shortlist, Eileen , I felt this was stronger on all accounts - the unlikeable characters seem to be a product of their environment, the story has momentum to it, and everything comes to a close. There isn't an idealistic thread in the entire thing, unlike certain books about whaling and seamen written by authors living during that actual time period.