Monday, 9 January 2017

THE NORTH WATER by Ian McGuire

4.5 out of 5 stars

On Amazon UK HERE
On Amazon.com HERE
On Goodreads HERE


How I discovered this book: I read a review of it on Evie Gaughan's blog.  Arctic wastes, hardship on a sea voyage, history, murder ~ I had to have it!  Longlisted for the Booker prize.

The North Water starts out as shocking, stark and not-for-the-faint-of-heart as it continues, with the introduction of psychopath Henry Drax in mid 19th Century Hull, waiting to board a whaling boat bound for Greenland.  Once on board, we soon become aware that Captain Brownlee and first mate Cavendish have more in mind than the usual expedition; the whaling industry is in decline, and they are looking for other ways to make money.  Enter the main character: opium addicted ship surgeon Sumner, who has fallen on hard times.

There is no doubt that the author has researched every aspect of 19th century whaling, and this book was fascinating in its detail and disturbingly real in its atmosphere.  The characters become three dimensional as soon as they open their mouths, and the underlying suspense made this novel one I would have read all in one go if I'd been able to.  A cabin boy is abused, murders take place, ill fate befalls the mariners, and many are left stranded... the plot is terrific.

Although I adored most of this book, I was slightly let down by the last 10%, which, although a well written and a suitable ending, was not as suspense-filled as the rest, and I felt a couple of elements went unanswered.  My only other complaint is that, whereas I do like gritty, gory realism, I could have done with a few less depictions of bodily odours/excretions.  But I still loved it, and would still recommend it most fervently, as long as you're not put off by graphic descriptions as mentioned in the previous sentence.


  

15 comments:

  1. Isn't it great to share the love of a good book?!! So glad you enjoyed it (warts and all!). Terms like 'gripping' and 'unputdownable' are over-used, but in this case, completely justifiable. Now, what to read next??

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    1. I just want to thank you so much for bringing it to my notice! I know, I know.... I keep flicking through the Kindle thinking, hmmm, where do I go next???

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    2. ps, I felt that Sumner's personality was changed to fit the plot, after he woke up in the Missionary's place - previously, he had been biddable, eager to please, and to stay in the background, but (to me, anyway, everyone always disagrees about these things!) after that he seemed more confident and brusque. I dunno. It really stood out for me, I felt as if I was reading a different character. But, hey, I still loved it!!

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    3. I don't know, someone else said they found the ending a bit rushed, but I didn't feel that. I figured after everything he had been through (not least the war, which he had never fully dealt with) I could understand his altered state. No more Mr. Nice Guy! I enjoyed the fact that he was Irish too, an outsider in the army and and among the crew. Just such an engaging character, I'd love to see a sequel. Otherwise, we'll just have to read it all over again!!

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    4. Yes, I understand what you mean, I did consider that! Everyone reads everything so differently, I suppose. I also wanted to know stuff like what happened to Drax after he'd nicked the sledge, and I know that the four who went off from the camp perished, and I presume the Hastings lot all did too, but we never saw any of this or heard about it.... but those small doubts only took half a star off it for me! Yep, reading it all over again looks like the only answer....

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    5. Good point actually, I think most authors would have delved into what happened to the other ship, but he just let the reader interpret their own endings (which I kind of admire as a writer - not sure I'd be able to resist the wordcount boost!). But that's just it, there was no filling in this book at all. No chapters that dragged, it was just intense right from the start and didn't let up. It was like reading on a knife edge! We'll still be talking about this by the time the next one comes out ;)

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    6. I know what you mean - I just thought that someone saying something about four bodies being found (the missionary/Yaks, perhaps), or something; I know Sumner saw the remains of the whaling boats that set out to find the Hastings. But more about Drax would have been good, as he was such a fascinating character. Some inner dialogue that revealed a bit about his backstory, perhaps, I dunno. I love backstory! I certainly agree with you about the pace, and I did like that; I admire it too, it takes confidence not to think you have to tell the reader every bloody detail, ha ha! And yes.... it's one I could carry on discussing for ages.... (more than willing if you have more to say!!!) ;)

      Interesting what you said about the wordcount boost!!!!!!! It's taken me a long time to stop looking at the wretched wordcount along the way, when I'm writing, and act on my own advice, which is that a story is as long as it needs to be, and if an intended novella ends up being a novel, or vice versa, then so be it. I thought my current WIP was going to be a short novel (It's part 1 of a series) of about 60K words. I'm on the last chapter and it's .... yep, it's going to be full 90K! I kept my 40K novella Best Seller sparse, with only the story itself and no back stuff, etc; one or two reviews said they would have liked to know more about <<<< what I said to you about TNW!!! Oh well, if the brilliant I McG can't please everyone, I'm sure I can't!!

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    7. That is good advice (why is your own advice always the hardest to follow?!!) My first novel was 100k, 2nd was 60k and my current is 75k - a publisher's dream :D I have the opposite problem though, my first drafts always rushes through to the end, so my rewriting involves a lot of slowing things down and taking time to flesh things out. Plus I used Nano to kickstart my last two projects, so you can imagine the wordcount obsession there! I agree though, I kind of like that we weren't spoon-fed everything in this book (even if it does leave us wanting more). It just upped the mystery factor for me and added to the air of suspense. Best of luck with the series ;)

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    8. I agree about own advice!! And I used to do that too - my second drafts would add 10K word to the book. I do agree with you about the not being spoonfed thing, too. IN fact I complained about being so in the last book I reviewed! It's finding a happy medium, isn't it.

      Thanks, re the series.... waaaah! ;)

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  2. Glad you enjoyed this I have this to read, as a Hull lass I was initially tempted by the link, but I've heard many good things about it.

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    1. Oh good, I look forward to seeing what you think - will be doubly interesting for you to read the bits about Victorian Hull, then!

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  3. Sounds like the author did a lot of research for her book, and got it spot on. X

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    1. Yes, and incorporated it all so seamlessly :)

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  4. This sounds like a perfect book for me - I've always been fascinated by whaling, despite the ick factor. Growing up not far from New Bedford and Nantucket, and seeing a huge whale washed up on a local beach when I was young, I was bitten by the bug.

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    1. It's great, but not if you're squeamish!

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