Tuesday, October 8, 2019

The North Water by Ian McGuire

Sumner crouches down and peers into the darkness of the cask. “This one might die of heartbreak before we get him home,” he says. Cavendish shrugs and pauses from his work. He looks back at Sumner and grins. His arms are dyed bright red up to the elbows and his waistcoat and trousers are stippled with gore. “He will forget the dead one soon enough,” he says. “Affection is a passing thing. A beast is no different from a person in that regard.”

A stunningly written novel. The prose is lush, vibrant, descriptive and never meandering and that means that the reader is in for one harrowing journey as this tale starts in some dark places and gets darker and darker as it goes.

Ostensibly a tale of a whaling ship headed to Northern waters in the dying days of the industry. Like Western historian and archivist Jeff C. Dykes, I view 18th & 19th-century whaling and sailing tales as kin to the Wild West tale. Rugged individualists against the elements and against each other. Often pitted in struggles with indigenous peoples. 

This novel is a whaling tale only on its surface. It is a tale of survival, the indifference of evil, and the precariousness of abstract notions of justice. 

I’ll stop there lest I make this novel sound too high-falutin’. 

Allow me to say this one is rough, rugged, extremely violent and may not be for all tastes in that regard. 

I can assure one and all that it is written with elegance. Gore-drenched perhaps, but elegant, nevertheless.

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