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The Voyage of the Short Serpent

3.41  ·  Rating details ·  226 ratings  ·  52 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 Harry N. Abrams (first published 2004)
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Average rating 3.41  · 
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Jan 05, 2009 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 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 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
Oct 04, 2009 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. ...more
Joshua Thompson
Sep 08, 2018 rated it it was amazing
An outstanding short novel I put down in two reading sessions. A harrowing tale of a bishop leading a voyage to Greenland to check on some colonists, where things have been rumored to have gone wrong. I especially enjoyed the chapters not narrated by the bishop.
Jun 13, 2009 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
Pat wegener
Jul 29, 2008 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
Sep 27, 2012 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
Apr 05, 2014 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
Jan 31, 2020 rated it it was ok
This tiny novel has a strong voice and sense of time and place. If you hold your expectations and read it as a comedy, you may find it more engaging than I did. I went in with some unfair expectations and I think it did the book a disservice. So, two stars due to my shortcomings, not those of the author.
Apr 07, 2008 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.
Mar 23, 2010 rated it really liked it
Reminiscent of Crichton's Eaters of the Dead (aka The 13th Warrior), which I also thoroughly enjoyed.

For further queries about the novel, I direct your attention to mlle. karen brissette 's review, found here:
Ross Cumming
I enjoy a bit of historical fiction from time to time and when this popped up in my recommendations I was sufficiently intrigued to search it out and give it a go.
Montanus is sent by the Catholic Church to voyage to Greenland to try and reclaim the country and its people for the church following rumours that the people had lost their faith, resorting to cannabilism and incest. The novel tells of the hardships that befall Montanus and his crew on the Short Serpent, as they battle the icy waters
The Idle Woman
Mar 18, 2018 rated it liked it
Literary prizes are strange things. This novel won the Grand Prix du roman de l’Académie française in 2004, which led me to expect something rather brilliant, but it fell gloomily short of expectations. Austere, cold and brutal, it tells the story of the medieval Catholic priest Insulomontanus, who is dispatched to New Thule (Greenland) to minister to the faithful. The New York Times regarded the book as a tour-de-force of black humour, but I found it an increasing slog of horrific cruelty and a ...more
Andy Berry
Oct 25, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition

A short book easy to read in one sitting, indeed very difficult to put down once started. It is a story that clearly shows how the Christian clergy saw themselves as having a right above, and if necessary against, the needs of the people they professed to serve. Not entirely out of kilter with the extremely wealthy right wing politicians that infect us like vermin today.
May 22, 2017 rated it it was amazing
An incredibly effective tale based on legend and history of Greenland setters who fall from civilized behavior due to hardship. Presents the conflicting paradigms of reinstating Christianity by any means with mixed-blood natives who know the old ways. Hunger, cold, and debauchery justified or perhaps not.
Book Barbarian  (Tammy Smith)
Feb 12, 2018 rated it really liked it
"Your Grace will find it hard to believe, but some even went so far as to consume another man's vomit."

How anyone can give this a one star rating I will never know.

Ivar Dale
Mar 07, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Totally grotesque and enormously enjoyable.
Oct 30, 2013 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
Oct 02, 2011 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 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 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 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
Dec 30, 2016 rated it it was ok
Shelves: fiction, kindle, 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 15, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Sometime in the Middle Ages an inquisitor is sent by the catholic church to the Norse colony on Greenland, to investigate the colony and, if necessary, bring them back to the faith. The first chapter is the Cardinal's instructions to his chosen inquisitor and much of the rest is told from the point of view of the inquisitor himself, with a couple of chapters told in the third person. The expedition undergoes catastrophic hardship, and they find the colony struggling and riddled with violence and ...more
Mar 15, 2008 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
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
Justin Howe
Oct 03, 2013 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
May 02, 2013 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
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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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