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3.56  ·  Rating details ·  2,009 ratings  ·  294 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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Average rating 3.56  · 
Rating details
 ·  2,009 ratings  ·  294 reviews

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Kelly (and the Book Boar)
Jul 26, 2014 rated it did not like it
Shelves: read-in-2014
Find all of my reviews at:

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 em
Robin Sloan
Jan 21, 2014 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. ...more
Nov 19, 2013 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
Feb 14, 2013 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
Dec 07, 2012 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.
Dec 25, 2012 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
Sep 02, 2013 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
Maria Espadinha
Apr 23, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A Fractal Mystery

I felt this story as a life and death sort of meeting, developed in two senses : metaphorically and philosophically.

Metaphorically through the flash love affair that happens between James and Danielle:

James was held in captivity by some al-Qaeda guys (the way I figure it out, the difference between such a situation and the death corridor doesn't seem quite substantial), while Danielle was a scientist (a sea explorer in contact with a myriad of living organisms) in a place pulsin
Jun 27, 2013 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
Charlie Quimby
Apr 14, 2013 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
Feb 27, 2013 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
May 01, 2013 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.
John Pappas
Mar 21, 2013 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 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
Jan 20, 2016 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* ...more
Harold Smithson
Jan 01, 2015 rated it did not like it
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
Dec 11, 2013 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
Jason McKinney
Nov 29, 2013 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
Chris Dietzel
Aug 07, 2020 rated it really liked it
I enjoyed this a lot and after finishing it I have no idea why it received so little fanfare or attention. I've read a ton of critically acclaimed books that were nowhere near as good as this. The story Ledgard presents, while centered around only two main characters, is very philosophical and epic in scope, and the execution is great. The ending fell flat for me, which was disappointing, but it's also possible that any other type of ending might not have worked for the story Ledgard provides. ...more
Nick Black
Jul 01, 2014 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
David Sasaki
Jan 01, 2014 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
Dec 15, 2013 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
Oct 31, 2013 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
Sep 07, 2013 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
Feb 08, 2014 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
Sep 15, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Amazing.... just amazing. Although it's not a book with many pages Ledgard manages to capture a perfect amount of sense in the book. There is love, pain (mainly pain) and adventure that balances out perfectly. With two protagonists (James More, descendant of Thomas More and Danielle Flinders, a oceanographer and biomechanic) it balances out the two perspectives perfectly.
What I did miss (and that's but a little thing) was the use of chapters, but I guess that's not really necessary for a book w
Detritus Aspertame
Sep 10, 2013 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.
Ryan Routh
Aug 03, 2015 rated it really liked it
It's taken me a while to getting around to jotting down some thoughts about this book. I really enjoyed this book -- would give it about a 4.49, so it just falls short of 5 stars. It's one of the best works of literary fiction I've read in years.

A general rule of mine is that for me to read fiction, it must be at least partially plot-driven. This book barely fails that test, but still surprisingly succeeds for me for several reasons.

Most primarily, it succeeds because this is a book that at its
Jan 01, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
As a sucker for novels about far flung locales, I enjoyed this book.

The premise is flat-out weird: two protagonists, male and female, each with complex careers, one in counterintelligence and one in ocean mathematics. Each focuses on how life exists and interacts and impacts our togetherness earth. Their life's work examines our collective struggle to evolve, our primal instinct to survive, and the need to understand why. It's art and science.

Although it has its flaws, I hesitate to give it le
Imen  Benyoub
Dec 31, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: britain
having ascended from the etenal night we cannot stop ourselves from heading towards the light. we are moths in the thrall of the sun and the stars, shedding off darknss. that is our instinct, but our conscious nature is also drawn to the unknown. we want to know what is beyond the wood, what the next valley looks like, and the valley beyond that. we want te know what is in the sky and what is behind the sky. these have been our obsessions since our beginnings, yet the curiosity does not extend t ...more
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147 likes · 15 comments
“If man had a sense of proportion, he would die of shame.” 8 likes
“It is understandable you would want to come back as yourself into a wonderland with the sharpness of color of the Queen of Hearts in a newly opened pack of cards. But coming back as yourself is resurrection. It is uncommon. It may even be greater than the scope of mathematics. We cannot talk with definition about our souls, but it is certain that we will decompose. Some dust of our bodies may end up in a horse, wasp, cockerel, frog, flower, or leaf, but for every one of these sensational assemblies there are a quintillion microorganisms. It is far likelier that the greater part of us will become protists than a skyscraping dormouse. What is likely is that, sooner or later, carried in the wind and in rivers, or your graveyard engulfed in the sea, a portion of each of us will be given new life in the cracks, vents, or pools of molten sulphur on which the tonguefish skate. You will be in Hades, the staying place of the spirits of the dead. You will be drowned in oblivion, the River Lethe, swallowing water to erase all memory. It will not be the nourishing womb you began your life in. It will be a submergence. You will take your place in the boiling-hot fissures, among the teeming hordes of nameless microorganisms that mimic no forms, because they are the foundation of all forms. In your reanimation you will be aware only that you are a fragment of what once was, and are no longer dead. Sometimes this will be an electric feeling, sometimes a sensation of the acid you eat, or the furnace under you. You will burgle and rape other cells in the dark for a seeming eternity, but nothing will come of it. Hades is evolved to the highest state of simplicity. It is stable. Whereas you are a tottering tower, so young in evolutionary terms, and addicted to consciousness.” 8 likes
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