Summary and book reviews of The North Water by Ian McGuire

The North Water

A Novel

by Ian McGuire

The North Water by Ian McGuire
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

     Not Yet Rated
  • First Published:
    Mar 2016, 272 pages
    Paperback:
    Mar 2017, 272 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Rebecca Foster

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About this Book

Book Summary

A nineteenth-century whaling ship sets sail for the Arctic with a killer aboard in this dark, sharp, and highly original tale that grips like a thriller.

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.

CHAPTER ONE

Behold the man.

He shuffles out of Clappison's courtyard onto Sykes Street and snuffs the complex air—turpentine, fishmeal, mustard, black lead, the usual grave, morning-piss stink of just-emptied night jars. He snorts once, rubs his bristled head, and readjusts his crotch. He sniffs his fingers, then slowly sucks each one in turn, drawing off the last remnants, getting his final money's worth. At the end of Charterhouse Lane he turns north onto Wincolmlee, past the De La Pole Tavern, past the sperm candle manufactory and the oil-seed mill. Above the warehouse roofs, he can see the swaying tops of main- and mizzenmasts, hear the shouts of the stevedores and the thump of mallets from the cooperage nearby. His shoulder rubs against the smoothed red brick, a dog runs past, a cart piled high with rough-cut timber. He breathes in again and runs his tongue along the haphazard ramparts of his teeth. He senses a fresh need, small but insistent, arising inside him, a ...

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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

McGuire never shies away from the gory details of life, whether that's putrid smells, bodily fluids, animal slaughter, or human cruelty. And yet he uses such effusive, vivid vocabulary that he somehow renders these shocking scenes artful, as when writing of a corpse: "All that is left is a grotesque and bloody gallimaufry of bones, sinew, and innards." Still, readers who are squeamish or easily upset should beware. This is a powerful inquiry into human nature and the making of ethical choices in extreme circumstances. From the open seas to the forbidding polar regions, this is one adventure worth taking.   (Reviewed by Rebecca Foster).

Full Review (614 words).

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Media Reviews

The New York Times

[McGuire] has written an allusion-filled novel that still manages to feel original, a violent tale of struggle and survival in a cinematically beautiful landscape.

The Wall Street Journal

Mesmerizing . . . . Told in grisly language that calls to mind Cormac McCarthy, The North Water begs such ontological questions as: What profit it a man who saves his skin but misplaces his soul?

The Millions

Raw and compulsively readable ... think The Revenant for the Arctic Circle.

Kirkus Reviews

For noirish thrills in an unusual setting, McGuire has the goods and the gore...

Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. A dark, brilliant yarn….An amazing journey.

The Guardian (UK)

The strength of The North Water lies in its well-researched detail and persuasive descriptions of the cold, violence, cruelty, and the raw, bloody business of whale-killing.

Financial Times (UK)

McGuire delivers one bravura set-piece after another ... The North Water has, in places, a Conrad–Melville undercurrent, but for the most part it is Dickens's influence that is most keenly felt ... This is a stunning novel, one that snares the reader from the outset and keeps the tightest grip until its bitter end.

The Independent on Sunday (UK)

The North Water is smoothly readable despite the horrors it depicts, and that's testament to the quality of McGuire's prose. Such fine writing might have been lifted from the pages of Herman Melville's Moby Dick.

The Times (UK)

It is a vivid read, full of twists, turns, period detail and strong characters. The setting is original too, and the description of harpooning and flensing of a whale have been forever etched on my memory. This melodramatic blood and urine-stained tale is an enjoyable contrast to most literary fiction.

The Daily Mail (UK)

Terrific, seamed with pitch black humour and possessed of a momentum that's kept up to the final, unexpected but resoundingly satisfying scene….inspired.

Sydney Morning Herald (Australia)

Full of foul deeds in a savagely beautiful setting, The North Water is a gripping, pitch-black yarn

Author Blurb Martin Amis, New York Times bestselling author of Zone of Interest
This is a novel that takes us to the limits of flesh and blood. Utterly convincing and compelling, remorselessly vivid, and insidiously witty, The North Water is a startling achievement.

Author Blurb Hilary Mantel, New York Times bestselling author of Wolf Hall
It's a fast-paced, gripping story set in a world of gruesome violence and perversity, where 'why?' is not a question and murder happens on a whim: but where a very faint ray of grace and hope lights up the landscape of salt and blood and ice. A tour de force of narrative tension and a masterful reconstruction of a lost world that seems to exist at the limits of the human imagination.

Author Blurb Ron Rash, New York Times bestselling author of Serena and Above the Waterfall
The North Water is the rare novel capable of making a past time and place palpable. Ian McGuire writes with a poet's attentiveness to detail, which infuses this dark and violent novel with an unsettling beauty.

Author Blurb Shannon Burke, author of Into the Savage Country


The North Water is a whaling novel in the same way that Blood Meridian is a western. I enjoyed the brashness and the economy of the writing, the sense of humanity, and the sly, black humor. The novel wasn't afraid to take chances and I was surprised several times. I was always entertained... An exceedingly well-written historical adventure.

Vulpes Libris

[A] truly great book. It's one I will return to... whenever I need a horizon broader than the one in front of me, or a reminder that when we pit ourselves against the forces of nature, the only thing we really need to fear are other men

Reader Reviews

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Beyond the Book

A Maritime Reading List

The North Water is a gritty, graphic novel about 19th-century whaling. Here are a few additional maritime adventures.

Rush Oh! by Shirley Barrett

Rush Oh! In this rollicking debut novel, Mary Davidson, an Australian whaler's daughter, looks back at 1908 – a catastrophic whaling season but her first chance at romance. At 19 she is in charge of the household and raising her five brothers and sisters. She also cooks the whalemen's meals, which brings her into contact with new crewman John Beck, a Methodist preacher with a mysterious past. Meanwhile, her comely sixteen-year-old sister Louisa falls for an Aboriginal crewman. Where The North Water is brutal, this is gently funny and observant of animal behavior.



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