The North Water by Ian McGuire

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Think Moby Dick meets HBO. Except even more violent. Then you’ll have an idea what Ian McGuire accomplishes in his latest novel The North Water.

Theft, prostitution, rape, murder, necrophilia – and that’s only in the first ten pages. Not for the faint of heart, McGuire’s novel takes an unflinching look at the final voyage of 19th century whaling ship, the Volunteer, through the eyes of Patrick Sumner, an Irish surgeon atoning for his past, and Henry Drax, a violent harpooner who is only interested in satisfying his base desires. McGuire uses these characters, along with the rest of the seedy crew of the Volunteer, to explore what man is capable of in the most extreme environments – both physical (the Arctic) and psychological (in the face of great evil).

If you’re able to stomach a fair amount of violence, then The North Water is an extremely rewarding read. Harkening back to adventure stories of old (such as the aforementioned Moby Dick along with Treasure Island, and Jack London’s arctic tales) The North Water brings a much needed modern touch to the genre through its fast pacing and presentation of complex moral quandaries. Although Drax’s villainy can come across as cartoonish in its motiveless malignancy, Sumner presents a much more complex portrait as the hero with a past. I won’t say much more – better for you to enjoy it firsthand – so please please please read this novel. I cannot recommend it enough. Unless you’re squeamish.

Disclaimer: this novel does contain acts of violence and rape that could act as triggers. Please take care of yourself readers!

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