The North Water by Ian McGuire
Published by Scribner UK
Published 11 February 2016
Digital library book
NB: I’ve decided to read all of the books long-listed for the Man Booker this year. Other book blogs do this so it seems like a good idea.
WHAT’S IT’S ABOUT
A 19th-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, brutal and bloodthirsty, Henry Drax is a harpooner on the Volunteer, a Yorkshire whaling ship bound for the hunting waters of the Arctic Circle. Also aboard is Patrick Sumner, an ex-army surgeon with a shattered reputation, no money and no better option than to embark as ship’s medic on this ill-fated voyage.
In India during the Siege of Delhi, Sumner thought he had experienced the depths to which a man can stoop and imagined he’d find respite on the Volunteer, but now, trapped in the wooden belly of the ship with Drax, he encounters pure evil and is forced to act. As the true purposes of the expedition become clear, the confrontation between the two men plays out in the freezing darkness of an Arctic winter.
Behold the man.
WHAT I THOUGHT
I thought The North Water was a great book. I was expecting the book to be a lot darker and quite visceral based on comments in other reviews but I didn’t find it visceral and gory at all. Maybe I’m just desensitised to such things. There is blood and gore but I’ve read worse and seen worse in movies and TV. Anyway, The North Water is great. I love the idea behind the book – a psychopath on a whaling ship hundreds of miles from land. There’s nowhere to run in such circumstances. You’re kind of screwed when the psychopath decides to play with an axe. The setting is incredibly well-written and vivid; I could easily picture the whaling ship, the sea and the moment when things take a turn for the worst – a cabin boy is sodomised and later murdered. The North Water is quite fast paced and events fairly rattle along. The book does contain foul language, murder and animal cruelty so may not suit every taste but I loved it. The historical detail is impressive. The characters develop throughout the course of The North Water in a believable way. I loved the contrast between evil psychopath Drax and the flawed but real ships doctor, Sumner. I also liked the fact that Drax, even though he is an evil monster is a complex character and not a cartoon bad guy which makes him all the more terrifying. The North Water ticked all the boxes for me and I’d highly recommend it.