“North Water” by Ian McGuire (Henry Holt & Co., 2016)


North Water is a nineteenth century whaling story by British author Ian McGuire. It is not for the faint of heart or a weak stomach, but it also smacks of a stereotypical “man’s novel” with over the top violence, graphic description and cruelty. While it is well written, it is ultimately about men wanting to hurt each other in despicable ways, and you have to really ask yourself: why would anyone want to read about that?

The book opens with Henry Drax, a harpooner, who is broke and down and out again, and proceeds to knock a black child unconscious and then rape him; it is done to show his depravity; all it did for me was make me hate this book. He joins the crew of the Volunteer and faces off against an ex-army surgeon named Patrick Sumner who has been through his own trials and tribulations. The two pit against each other on a seemingly doomed voyage.

For those who enjoy the over-description of this harsh world in this harsh time on an old whaling ship, as men are being men in extreme conditions and a harsh arctic winter, then this is the book for you. For those looking for something more engaging and actually worth reading, move along to the next title.

Originally written on July 12, 2016 ©Alex C. Telander.

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