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The Voyage of the Short Serpent

3.4  ·  Rating Details ·  151 Ratings  ·  42 Reviews
Years ago, a group left Europe to start a colony in Iceland, "the northernmost part of the world," as they called it--a frozen, desolate place where it is difficult to survive. They called the place New Thule. But as the years wear on, communication between New Thule and the people back home has become less and less frequent, until finally it stops altogether. They fear th ...more
Hardcover, 208 pages
Published January 10th 2008 by The Overlook Press (first published 2004)
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Jan 05, 2009 karen rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: the strong of stomach
this book is short and brutal. the descriptions of the deadly cold was really getting to me, reading it on the back stoop at work in the snow. and the cannibalism as i am about to eat beef in aspic. great timing on my part, again. now i just have to read a book where someone finds millions of dollars, and see if i can be influenced towards wealth.
Aug 03, 2009 Chip rated it did not like it
Stiffed by the Short Serpent

Why did I buy this book? Across the top of the front dust jacket reads "Winner of the Grand Prix du Roman de l'Academie Francaise" - one would naturally assume that the "best of the best" would be a good read, even in translation. Four of the five reviews on the back are all from France, the lone English one claiming "I'll go out on a limb and bet you have never read anything quite like The Voyage of the Short Serpent before." So I took the bait. Short answer: I *have
Apr 15, 2008 L.A.Weekly rated it really liked it
Review by Nathan Ihara
In Voyage, a medieval Norwegian bishop named Insulomontanus goes on a mission to a colony in Greenland that has lost all communication with the Catholic Church. He hopes to restore the word of God — and to collect a heavy tithing. (It's a) seductive and stimulating read, full of the wonders and horrors of distant lands.

Boucheron’s bishop staggers through a sickening nightmare, a frozen Hieronymus Bosch landscape of cannibalism, starvation, torture and hypocrisy.

The bishop
Pat wegener
Jul 29, 2008 Pat wegener added it
Recommends it for: Everyone!
When I saw the Title, I thought of "The Name Of the Rose" and there is alot here to compare. Years ago a group of people left their Home in Greenland and went to settle on New Thule (Iceland). No one has heard from them for three generations, the Bishop is worried they may have gone Native or worse yet, turned pagan. He sends his good Priest to check on them and revive their faith. Their ship is the Short Serpent and they set forth on a voyage filled with good will, to find unimaginable horror. ...more
Apr 05, 2014 Pete rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Man versus Nature is a favorite topic of mine. Norsemen died out in Greenland and North America when the climate changed over a few generations around 1300 AD. What was it like? Bernard Du Boucheron takes you there in this sparse riveting book of historical fiction. In short it was horrific. Norsemen failed to adapt to diets of blubber and adoption of native customs. Only a few stone dwellings and artifacts remain today. I wolfed down this book in less than a day. It was well worth the $4.98 I p ...more
Sep 27, 2012 Bobby rated it liked it
Hard to rate this short book as I am disappointed there wasn't more!! I really enjoyed the same tale being told from differents viewpoints in very dissimilar lights. Pretty good research but I think the Bishop's reasoning was sometimes geared to making things overly-repulsive and the consequences were probably a bit extreme. But who knows? I wasn't there and could be wrong!! Seriously, its a fine read for those interested in that time period and the harshness of life in the terrritories of Green ...more
Mar 23, 2010 Elliott rated it really liked it
Reminiscent of Crichton's "Eaters of the Dead," which I also thoroughly enjoyed. For further queries about the novel, I direct your attention to mlle. karen brissette 's breviloquent (Ye-ah! That's right! That's some shit right there, son. Booyakasha!) review, found here:
Apr 07, 2008 Ned rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: people who are not easily grossed out...
Recommended to Ned by: NY Times Book Review
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Oct 04, 2009 Robert rated it it was ok
Shelves: contemporary
Full of brutality, cannibalism, sadism, and religious fanaticism, yet strangely I still didn't like it. Left it in a laundromat in Split, Croatia.
Dec 30, 2016 Popup-ch rated it it was ok
Shelves: kindle, fiction, 2016
The Norse settlement of New Thule hasn't been heard of for years. It was created on the Greenland coast in a warmer era, and now the ice is creeping closer. There has not been any regular trade for decades, and there are concerns about the fate of the faith among the Christians, who haven't had an anointed bishop or an ordained priest for generations. An expedition is organised, under the leadership of a bishop, who acts as the narrator, and a ship is built according to the old customs (clinker- ...more
Oct 30, 2013 Mike rated it really liked it
This was a fairly quick read, clocking in at just over 200 pages. A 14th or 15th century bishop is sent by the pope to check in on the settlements in Thule (Greenland), which have been incommunicado for decades, and the Church fears the people there may be dead, or worse -- fallen into heresy.

There are not a lot of written records from the doomed Norse colonies in medieval Greenland, but what du Boucheron reconstructs is grounded in archeology and what little we do know about the twilight years
Jun 13, 2009 Vic rated it it was ok
The Voyage of the Short Serpent is a savage story that seemed to simply stop or run out of fuel, much like the wretched souls inhabiting New Thule (Greenland circa eleventh century). I persisted out of a morbid curiosity to see if there would be any redeeming value to having spent a few hours with what was being hailed a literary masterpiece. This book was after all an international best seller and the winner of a literary award in France.

I am not a fan of the middle-ages, the time period this
Oct 02, 2011 Steve rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: novels, translations
I would give this 3.5 stars, if I could. The descriptions of suffering against cold, hunger, and deprivations social, physical, and spiritual are uncomfortably gripping in this book, and the ironic tension between the narrator's awareness and the reader's creates a pretty harsh critique of colonialism and religious zealotry. But the story was too skeletal, maybe, and didn't develop as fully as it might have — for a book built on the conceit of being, for the most part, a chronicle of events in a ...more
Jan 21, 2011 Sean rated it did not like it
Shelves: non-fiction, fiction
"The Voyage of the Short Serpent" by Bernard du Boucheron is a short, unpleasant volume with interesting ideas but lacking narrative cohesion and depth. Instead of indulging in complex ideas about humans in the wilderness, the book that seems solely concerned with indulging with the grotesque. The book is written interestingly - in a modified second/third person, consisting of letter of a priest to his archbishop describing a voyage to a lost Scandinavian colony in the New World that may or may ...more
James F.
This novel is an attempt to imitate the expression of language and social values of an era long-ago that few, if any in this time of ours, will likely understand. It is an English translation of a work written in French, so it is possible that certain errors crept into the translation, particularly with respect to the actual intent of the author - is the author pro-Church or anti-Church?

It is an attempt by the author to show the existing morals of that time, particularly the morals of a church l
Ken Vaughan
Dec 31, 2009 Ken Vaughan rated it it was ok
Shelves: historical
In an unspecified time, but probably the 10th or 11th century, a priest is ordered by his cardinal to voyage to New Thule (Greenland), where years earlier a colony had been established. It has been many years since any report on the community’s welfare has been received, and the priest and his crew set out on board the Short Serpent from Sweden. The story is told by the priest who begins to show signs of mental imbalance after the harrowing voyage, and the discovery that the surviving population ...more
Aug 18, 2008 Cathy rated it liked it
The small Christian colony in Greenland has dropped out of touch as the ice gets heavier, and a bishop/inquisitor is dispatched assist them -- and to punish such sinners as he may find. Needless to say, he finds plenty. And needless to say, it becomes obvious that he's one of the biggest sinners of all.

This is a short book and one I tore through -- I can't say it wasn't engaging. Maybe I've just read too many novels about people struggling and suffering in the Arctic, but that aspect of it seeme
Mar 15, 2008 Kevin rated it it was ok
The Voyage of the Short Serpent caught my eye at the local library as I was purusing the new arrivals section. It had an interesting cover; it was a short work which, as readers know, I appreciate; and the central concept intrigued me.

I must confess that after having read it, however, I was left wondering what anyone saw in such a book. The book - in its original French - had won the Grand Prix du Roman de l'Académie Française and a number of the reviews were quite positive.

To me the book was s
Justin Howe
Oct 03, 2013 Justin Howe rated it really liked it
In the Middle Ages a catholic priest and inquisitor is sent to the isolated Christian communities in Greenland where he finds a land ravaged by privation, cannibalism, and a host of other sins. One of those books where horrible people do horrible things and you know you can’t trust the first person narrator because they’re not telling you the true story. Yet despite all this the narrative remains compelling and the story unfolds at a rapid pace. Parts of it reminded me of McCarthy’s The Road, bu ...more
i like books that are short enough to read in an afternoon. this is one of those. I also like books that wallow in and go on about the idiocy of organized religion. another plus for this excellent piece of work. and though it's a book of unremitting suffering, horror and revolting details, my copy has some blurbs on the back that use the words "comedy" and "laugh-out-loud funny." and that is there alright, in spots; but you will only get the humor if you have a sense of irony. without a head for ...more
May 02, 2013 Bookstorehabitue rated it liked it
Told mostly from the perspective of a medieval, psychopathic bishop, TVOSS is outlandishly bleak and hilarious. Many people--probably nicer people than I--, may likely find this remorseless parade of murder, mutilation, and miscarriage of justice repulsive, but the dry satirical wit with which du Boucheron writes his over-the-top miasma left me with a gasping smile. The plot rolls along like Sisyphus's boulder, and the bad die horribly, the good don't exist, and the merely practical probably die ...more
Dec 02, 2013 Mary rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
This is one of the worst books I have ever read. If it were possible to give it a negative star, I would. Any intellectual or philisophical interest it could have brought to the table was completely overshadowed by the excess of largely unnecessary gore. I realize that I am far from being a literary critic, but I am baffled as to why this book received the "Grand Prix du Roman de l'Académie Française" en 2004. To put it succinctly, this was a painful read.
May 18, 2015 Jean rated it it was amazing
Recommended to Jean by: Display at the public library
Desperate hunger, violence, poverty make this short book a grim read. What is fact and what is deception in the bishop's account of his days in New Thule (Leif Erikson's Greenland settlement) in the years after the First Crusade (eleventh century)?
Aug 19, 2015 William rated it really liked it
An excellently written but very gruesome book. Not for the weak stomached, or very religious. It is really down on the hypocrisy of the middle ages Catholic religion. Probably quite accurate in its portrayal of the possible final days of the Norse Greenland settlement. What a sad final ending!
Sep 22, 2012 Sae-chan rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: literature
Subtle yet punching at all the right points. The old styling of language made it the more middle-agey (you can read it as: more hypocritical, but forgivable). And the way it wasn't overdone was classy.

Good read all in all. The last couple of pages were the winner pages.
Jun 28, 2008 Susan rated it liked it
Short book about very early Norse colonists in Greenland and the priest who is commissioned to find the colony after several hundreds of years have passed by. He finds many dead and a degraded civilization. The imagery of the cold, barren land is very well done.
Maurice Fitzgerald
Jul 28, 2016 Maurice Fitzgerald rated it it was ok
It was an easy compulsive read. It was also a pointless catalogue of human degradation. Perhaps what made the book special was some literary style which couldn't be translated.
Apr 11, 2011 Mike rated it it was ok
A bishop is sent to a heathen land to bring the cannibalistic people back to the Church - descriptions of brutality and a King James-like narration ensues.
Apr 15, 2008 Caroline rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Mordant Minds
Darkly funny, this short little novel is fantastically morbid. It's delicious and saucy. I'm a fan.
May 25, 2008 Linda rated it really liked it
Difficult to read - though , I suspect, that is part of the author's idea to allow the reader to understand the difficulty of the time.
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Bernard du Boucheron, né en 1928 à Paris, est un écrivain français.

Bernard du Boucheron, born 1928 in Paris, is a French writer.
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