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The North Water (2016)

di Ian McGuire

UtentiRecensioniPopolaritàMedia votiCitazioni
1,2038313,372 (3.99)201
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 for the first time 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 violent, filthy, 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.… (altro)
Aggiunto di recente dafratres, dishchan, pjfancher, DarrinLett, SarahMac314, heckweed, mattorsara, Arena800, biblioteca privata, sycoraxpine
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North Water had me bored to tears so I skimmed through the last part of it. No clue how it ends. ( )
  Jinjer | Aug 12, 2022 |
I couldn't get into it. I gave up reading it after about 30 pages. ( )
  pacbox | Jul 9, 2022 |
Absolutely brilliant writing and unapologetically violent. One of my best reads in recent years. ( )
  claudioargento | Feb 8, 2022 |
I gave it 4 stars because it is a good storyline. Very descriptive which does make it an easy read. Some of the boat terms I didn't follow. But it's also the most gruesome book I have ever read. Not something you want to read while your eating! ( )
  Samqua | Jan 5, 2022 |
Behold the man…

The opening line reads like a challenge, bordering on the blasphemous. Ecce Homo are, of course, the famous words which Pilate uses to present a battered Jesus to the bloodthirsty crowd in the Passion story. Here, the phrase introduces the reader to harpooner Henry Drax, a brutal, brutish individual who, we learn from the very first chapter, is a sexual predator, child abuser and cold-blooded murderer. He is, in other words, less man than beast. Author Ian McGuire describes him as follows on the book’s website page:

I started with the idea of him being like an animal -- in other words being driven by instinct and desire, living in the moment and having little or no interest in the past or future. He doesn't think or worry at all about the causes or consequences of his actions, unlike Sumner who can't shake off the past and is haunted by it. So that was how I began, and then built him up from there…

Other characters in the book have an even darker view of Drax – he is the devil incarnate, a personification of evil. Man, beast, fiend.

When we meet Drax, he is about to join the ‘Volunteer’, a Yorkshire whaling ship due to sail from Hull to the Arctic Circle which, in the 19th Century, is still a rich hunting area for whales and seals. Amongst the motley crew recruited by the expedition’s financier, there’s also one Patrick Sumner, an ex-army surgeon who is going to sea for the first time, harbouring unsavoury secrets learnt during the Siege of Delhi. When a cabin boy is raped during the Arctic voyage, readers can immediately draw quite obvious conclusions regarding the perpetrator. The identity of the abuser is less clear to the crew and Sumner turns into a detective of sorts. In the meantime, the captain of the Volunteer is aware that there are other reasons for the expedition apart from collecting whale blubber, as the crew will eventually realise to their dismay. Against the backdrop of the Arctic landscape and amongst a diverse cast of supporting actors, a showdown between Drax and Sumner is inevitable.

In its contrast between a seasoned seagoer and a relatively young and naïve ship medic, The North Water reminded me of Dark Water by Elizabeth Lowry, which I read and reviewed last year. But closer inspection shows that, despite superficial similarities, these two novels are very different. For a start, although Dark Water has (like Ian McGuire’s novel) been compared to Moby Dick, it is more ‘earthbound’ than The North Water, with much of its action happening on land. Both novels smell and taste of seasalt, but in the case of The North Water the narrative is centred on the expedition itself, rather than its aftermath. Another difference is that Dark Water is more of a Gothic novel, exploiting as it does many of the tropes of the genre. Ian McGuire’s The North Water, on the other hand, has dark overtones, and graphic, sometimes stomach-churning violence, but often feels closer to the classic ‘adventure novels’ of the 19th Century and often mimics their writing style. It is also as viscerally entertaining.

The settings of the novel – the busy, filthy port areas in Hull, the battle-riddled streets of Delhi, the claustrophobic cabins of the Volunteer or the sublime Arctic expanse – are described realistically in a way which involves all the senses. In this respect, it reminded me of another “historical thriller” I recently enjoyed: The Sheriff’s Catch by Maltese author James Vella-Bardon. Like most of the other scenes in The North Water, the whale and sea hunts are uncompromising and brutal but, despite the reservations we might have in these more ecologically-conscious times, McGuire still manages to put across the thrill of the hunt. Another of the novel’s strong points is its characterisation. Drax is evil incarnate, but he is strangely beguiling. And Sumner, whilst no saint, is likeable and I felt myself cheering him on in his battle of wits with the baddies. Great stuff.

For an illustrated version of the review, with links and a music playlist, have a look at

http://endsoftheword.blogspot.com/2019/05/north-water-by-ian-mcguire.html ( )
  JosephCamilleri | Jan 1, 2022 |
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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 for the first time 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 violent, filthy, 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.

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