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Submergence

3.61  ·  Rating Details ·  1,563 Ratings  ·  236 Reviews
In a room with no windows on the coast of Africa, an Englishman, James More, is held captive by jihadist fighters. Posing as a water expert to report on al-Qaeda activity in the area, he now faces extreme privation, mock executions, and forced marches through the arid badlands of Somalia. Thousands of miles away on the Greenland Sea, Danielle Flinders, a biomathematician, ...more
Paperback, 209 pages
Published March 26th 2013 by Coffee House Press (first published July 21st 2011)
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Kelly (and the Book Boar)
Jul 26, 2014 Kelly (and the Book Boar) rated it did not like it
Shelves: read-in-2014
Find all of my reviews at: http://52bookminimum.blogspot.com/

A couple of months ago some dillweed wrote this article attempting to shame adults who read YA books. In said article, she name-dropped a bunch of authors who wrote well-known classics, as well as this selection. She said of Submergence:

"A few months ago I read the very literary novel Submergence, which ends with a death so shattering it’s been rattling around in my head ever since. (If it's actually a death! Adult novels often embr
...more
Brian
Nov 19, 2013 Brian rated it it was amazing
This is a perfectly told story detailing the experience of two protagonists plumbing the depths of humanity - both personal and corporate - in ways figurative and literal. There's a love story that is beautifully constructed, a rich (and obviously very well researched) narrative of jihadists in Somalia, told via wondrous sentences such as:

Heaven was like being tuned out. You entered in and were suffused in an equal light, without sun or storms, never atmospheric, and were met also by one equal s
...more
Steve
Feb 14, 2013 Steve rated it it was amazing
Shelves: novels
A couple weeks after reading it, I still don't know quite what to say about Submergence except that it's phenomenal, one of the best novels I've read in a very long time. It's philosophical, provoking questions about how best to respond to the world in its complexities, whether by focusing inward or outward. And Ledgard, perhaps through his experience as a journalist, manages the tricky feat of making the terrorists who kidnap the protagonist (that's no spoiler, it's the first page) into complex ...more
Lori
Dec 07, 2012 Lori rated it liked it
Read 12/24/13 - 12/27/13
3 Stars - Recommended to those who are already fans of hostage-slash-love-slash-deep-thoughts-about oceanic-life-and-god-and-angels-and-hell-and-death novels told through the past and present experiences of both main characters
Pgs: 212
Publisher: Coffee House Press

I haven't written an actual, real length review since September, so go figure that I find myself itching to write one on a book that everyone else raves about but that has left me feeling incredibly underwhelmed.
...more
Robin Sloan
Jan 21, 2014 Robin Sloan rated it it was amazing
In an interview, Ledgard called this book an attempt at "planetary writing." Well: the attempt succeeded, and the result is a novel simultaneously (a) perfectly of its time, and (b) dizzyingly beyond it. A stunning achievement and, bonus, a great read.
Sitaphul
Sep 02, 2013 Sitaphul rated it did not like it
Very disappointed, given the reviews I've read of this book. Makes me question the reviewing industry, in general. The love story at the center was deflated and pretentious. Even with my understanding that James was undergoing trauma in captivity, his sections read like imperial, anthropological journal entries, which, unfortunately, don't read as authorial strategy or characterization. The role of women (other than Danny) is exploitive and prop-like, and Danny herself feels incredibly undevelop ...more
Tim
Dec 25, 2012 Tim rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
While this is not 100% successful, it is a damn impressive book, and occasionally it is brilliant. Ledgard writes for the Economist, from Africa, and this novel, his second, is set in Somalia. The hero, James More (a descendant of Thomas More; now that's a lineage), is a British "water engineer" (i.e., spook), kidnapped by jihadists. The harrowing, vivid opening bit will convince you, not that it would take much convincing, mind, that you must never be kidnapped by al-Qaeda zealots under any cir ...more
Eric
Feb 27, 2013 Eric rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Has a novel ever been more aptly titled than J. M. Ledgard's Submergence? From the opening pages, we're reminded relentlessly that "submergence," "submersion," "sinking," "diving," and "descent" are very much what this painstakingly crafted book is about. It's a thematic obsession that ties together philosophical synopses, historical anecdotes, essayistic meditations, two central characters, and three interwoven plots. Submergence is plainly a novel of grand ambitions—a brooding, atmospheric spy ...more
Katie
Jun 27, 2013 Katie rated it liked it
There simply wasn’t enough story or interaction between actual human beings in this novel for my taste. In a way it could have begun and ended anywhere, as it really did seem often to be a series of pieces - consisting of two deeply solitary narratives and a slew of scientific/historic observations of varied relevance - that were shuffled with occasional brilliance and sporadic logic.

That said, what Ledgard has done with dimension is wholly unique and deeply interesting. By exploring depth, sta
...more
Saptarshi
May 01, 2013 Saptarshi rated it did not like it
Stunningly orientalist. Simply amazed that not one of the reviews have even touched upon it. Ledgard seems like a very creepy old-school colonial guy - a slightly smarter Brit Tom Friedman-ish journalist at the neoliberal Economist - with a very dubious Islamophobic agenda. Will elaborate in a longer piece, but wow, what a knob.
Ariya
Jan 20, 2016 Ariya marked it as to-read  ·  review of another edition
Isn't particularly interested but hey, James McAvoy is being cast as the main character so, *sigh*
Charlie Quimby
Apr 14, 2013 Charlie Quimby rated it it was amazing
On a recent vacation, I finished J.M. Ledgard's Submergence and pressed it on my very well-read wife. Her first word after finishing it was "Wow!"

She asked if she could pass it on to her sister and my first word was "No!"

Not because I'm usually selfish with my books, but because I want this book close by — under my pillow should I despair about the world; on the shelf should I think there's no sense trying to write serious fiction in this age of micro-reading; on my desk to remind me that big ol
...more
John Pappas
Mar 21, 2013 John Pappas rated it really liked it
"They arrived at a place no satellite image can do justice to," as we arrive in the barren world of Ledgard's Submergence, a book that feels so intensely of the global transnational geopolitical now. Like Delillo but without the paranoia, or with the paranoia replaced by both desperate hope and resignation, Ledgard's world is one of deception and fanaticism, of drones and terrorism, of collapsing nation-states and war lords, but also one of crystalline observations of the natural world -- a worl ...more
Uwe Hook
Jul 27, 2013 Uwe Hook rated it it was amazing
My book of the year so far:

J.M . Ledgard's second novel is strange and disturbing It is also dark and, one might argue, deeply pessimistic in terms of the future it suggests for humankind.

SUBMERGENCE is an account of James, a kidnapped British spy, and the slow disintegration of his will and consciousness among his jihadist captors in Somalia, coupled with the descent into the depths of the oceans on the part of Danielle, a marine biomathematician.

Somewhere in there, in flashbacks, like particle
...more
David Sasaki
Jan 01, 2014 David Sasaki rated it really liked it
Shelves: kindle
I came to this book with unfairly inflated expectations, having read enthusiastic endorsements from writers I respect: Teju Cole, Kathryn Schulz, Alexis Madrigal, and Robin Sloan.

Those unfair expectations were met throughout the first half of the book, but the second half was a slow let-down

The strength of the book's beginning lies in its juxtaposition between two scenes that unravel with cinematic allure. First we meet James More, a British spy posing as a water engineer who has been taken hos
...more
Ellen
Feb 24, 2013 Ellen rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: recensies
Op de laatste pagina van Tot het laatste vuur de diepzee bereikt roept J.M. Ledgard op om Denis Allex, een in juli 2009 door Al Shabaab ontvoerde Franse veiligheidsadviseur, niet te vergeten. Net zomin als Asho Duhulow, een meisje dat op 13-jarige leeftijd in Kismayo schuldig werd bevonden aan ontrouw omdat ze verkracht was. Haar straf was dood door steniging. De kans dat je beiden vergeet, nadat je Tot het laatste vuur de diepzee bereikt hebt gelezen, is nihil.

James More, de mannelijke hoofdper
...more
Mehmet Sumer
Hem çok güzel hem de netameli bir kitap.

İlk başta tekniğini yadırgadım ve başlarda sıkıldım elbette, ne de olsa okurluk tarihinde kimi zaman kırılmalara uğrasa da Cervantes'ten bu yana alışkın olduğumuz bir yapı var zihnimizde. "Batır Gitsin Derin Sulara" ise bu yapıya uygun bir eser değil. Rahatlıkla didaktik olmakla eleştirilebilir. Aslında tam da bu nedenle çok heyecan verici bir kitap. Birkaç sayfadan sonra ne olacağını merak edip ilgiyle okumaya başladım ve yeni şeyler öğrenmeye alıştım.

Bu
...more
Jason McKinney
Nov 29, 2013 Jason McKinney rated it it was ok
Huh... First off, I was disappointed in light of the stellar reviews that I had read. It has two somewhat compelling characters who through a chance encounter, meet and fall in love at Christmas time while staying at a rural French hotel created by Cesar Ritz at the start of the 20th century. This cozy, romantic plotline is thrown in a blender with jarring accounts of jihadists taking a British spy captive and scientific digressions on how significant the undersea world is and how people refuse ...more
Harold Smithson (Suicide punishable by Death)
The more I read modern “high brow” literature the more convinced I am that nobody has actually read any classics. People talk about Moby Dick being one of the greatest novels in the English language (Ledgard himself praises Moby Dick in Submergence during one of many unnecessary deviations from the story) but peoples’ idea of what the book is differs greatly from the reality. Nobody ever mentions that Herman Melville wrote a funny scene where one sailor forces another to apologize to a couple sh ...more
Nick Black
Jul 01, 2014 Nick Black rated it really liked it
Recommended to Nick by: someone in slate
Pretty good! People who talk about "long passages of technical detail" either read a different book, or have a morbid fear of the scientific argot without which it is simply impossible to tell a detailed story about engineers and researchers. a quote from the text is relevant:

"She had suffered from the divide in the English education system, which holds that scientists do not study Milton, and those who love Milton have no comprehension of Newton's gravity, which brought Lucifer tumbling down fr
...more
Ryan
Dec 15, 2013 Ryan rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Ledgard possesses and utilizes powerful, immense pools of delicious nouns to describe the natural scenes involved in Danny and More's adventures.

I loved this book for its math and science snippets. While Ledgard effortlessly sits the reader inside the conscious of James More, he only views Danny from the exterior, among her colleagues. In descriptions and snippets around Danny's work I was particularly hooked by Danny's mythical inspiration:

“Six millennia ago, the air god Enlil and the sea god E
...more
Mark
Oct 31, 2013 Mark rated it really liked it
This is a helluva book.

If you want to know what happened in a war, you might read a history book or old news reports. But if you want to know what it was like, you go to books, movies, story.

We're at war, now. But there aren't a lot of stories about it and the news always feels at an arms length.

The war between The West and Islamist Terrorists seems either very distant (drone attack in Yemen) or very immediate (Sep 11, July 7). Other than Usama bin Laden or Khalid Sheik Mohammed, how many peopl
...more
Luisina
Aug 18, 2016 Luisina rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Regardless of the fact that several people on Goodreads have reviewed this book as being, let’s say to summarize it, “crap”, I loved it. I mean, the way it is written, the reflections that the author makes throughout the novel are phenomenal. It is the kind of novel in which you stop reading so that you can organize your thoughts. The instantaneously chemistry between the main characters is fantastic. James and Danielle met on a Christmas Eve, but then, the circumstances forces them aside. James ...more
A
Dec 11, 2013 A rated it did not like it
Shelves: read-2014
Pretentious, ill-conceived, misogynistic, boring, flat, and insufferable. The author is a journalist who fancies himself a novelist but here's hoping for the salvation of any dignity the human race still has left that he really, really, REALLY doesn't quit his day job. I would not wish this paean to white male privilege on my worst enemy.

Please, I implore you, store this book in your bathroom cabinet as emergency backup when the TP runs out, and instead go pick up "A Day and A Night and a Day b
...more
Ben
Sep 07, 2013 Ben rated it liked it
In some ways this reminds me of Narcopolis in that it engages in lyrical, almost poetic storytelling that meanders from place to place and character without the use of chapters. The review I read of it in New York Magazine describes this as a water-like quality, which I can sort of see, but it's almost more like pieces of a story that slowly wash up on a beach and then retreat, giving you dribs and drabs of information over time.

The quality of writing alone definitely merits more stars than I'm
...more
Detritus Aspertame
Sep 10, 2013 Detritus Aspertame rated it did not like it
A pretentious soap opera. Female lead
a caricature, male lead little more nuanced
but a bore. Too much science jargon at the
expense of narrative and too little emotion
to form any connection with the characters.
The roundest and most believable descriptions
are of jihadists. Fun! This book was claptrap
masquerading as high lit. Would reccomend
to self-important poseurs who think they're
Mensa material.
Marianne
The story is a bit of a mish-mash of genres - not quite a spy story, nor a science one, it's a love story, but not really, there's a political commentary, and maybe a sociological one too and for me, it actually worked that it wasn't easily defined. I'm not sure how it will work in the film that is being made, but as a book, the mish-mash was a plus for me.

I felt in the book that James was given a far more rounded and interesting character and storyline than Danny got. Perhaps it was the sense o
...more
Sara
Dec 31, 2015 Sara added it
Beautiful writing, prone to philosophical digressions, and two unique settings and characters not often dealt with in fiction. But it felt a bit one-sided. The sections with James in captivity take up the larger share of the book which leaves the female half of the story Danny dropped for pages and pages. It ultimately feels like Ledgard either had a lack of interest or confidence in her material. That being said, it's worth sticking with for what you learn about jihadism alone, and it builds to ...more
Brian
Jun 23, 2014 Brian rated it liked it
Shelves: paper, library
Hmm. Honestly? I struggled to get to the end of this book. Spent several days slogging through the last ten pages, even. Because I just didn't care, but struggled with the feeling that I should. There is no real plot here. Two super smart people, drawn by a super smart author. I found some of the side characters more interesting. The author is well-travelled, a thinker and observer of places and things I'll never experience. I'm okay with that, but never felt drawn in this time around. In a blur ...more
Brianne
Feb 08, 2014 Brianne rated it really liked it
Several weeks later and I'm still thinking about this book. 4.5 stars. It has a very academic quality to it, but somehow effortlessly captures the beauty in dire solitude, the bottomless depth of loneliness, and that incredible feeling of awakening when you meet an intellectual and physical match. The two interconnected stories run parallel to each other against the backdrop of a) imprisonment in Africa and b) a deep sea submarine voyage. I just can't get over how stunningly beautiful this book ...more
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“If man had a sense of proportion, he would die of shame.” 7 likes
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