The North Water: Book Review

The North Water by Ian McGuire

Length: 270 Pages

“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.”

Okay… So to be honest up front, I gave this book a two. It was also our book club pick for April (I was the host this month).  Three of our members gave it 1 star, I gave it a 2, someone else gave it a 4, and one gave it a 5.  So we had a nice range of opinions, and this was one of our liveliest debates. I research several different lists and this one was on many of them, plus it is:

One of The New York Times Book Review‘s 10 Best Books of the Year – National Bestseller – Longlisted for the Man Booker Priz – A New York Times and Wall Street Journal Bestseller – Named a Best Book of the Year by Chicago Tribune, The Wall Street Journal, The Guardian, New Statesman, Publishers Weekly, and Chicago Public Library”

However… I don’t think the blurb really prepared me for what this book was about. I personal opinion is that the last 100 pages or so could have been condensed, or completely changed.  After a certain major event (spoilers for the end), it felt like it slowed to a crawl, and almost never picked back up. Plus, the final big event almost fell flat because of it.  I was disappointed.

**Spoilers**

The blurb says something dark in the hold.  The book starts out with a man killing a another man for money, then following a little boy, knocking him out and raping him. Oh and then he does rapes a cabin boy aboard the ship, and finally kills him. I just was not prepared for that.

I have to say, the overall writing was amazing. It is very in tune with the time, the language, the history, etc.  They story was dark, and yet conveyed the struggles these men would have really faced.  The whaling was excellently described. The sealing hurt my soul. As did a scene involving polar bears.  There is cannibalism, death, murder, and more.  All the grim darkness you could just about imagine. And amazingly, with basically one female character in the beginning, mentions of whores in another town, and one maid at the end.  Of course, also true to the time and the job.

As to things that my friends loved – the language, Drax (who we debated on between Sociopath and Psychopath and landed on Psychopath), and the general overall story.  I will say we all mostly agreed that the ending could have been better.  The friend who gave it four stars did so because she wanted to see a better fight between Drax and Sumner.  The 2 star/1 stars of us had issues with the timeline. And violence. Oh it is brutally violent and the language is quite awful within (as to be expected of whalers but still).

Overall, I suppose give it a chance but just go in warned about the actual content.

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