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The North Water
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Booker Prize for Fiction > 2016 Longlist: The North Water

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message 1: by Trevor (last edited Jul 27, 2016 04:57AM) (new)

Trevor (mookse) | 1859 comments Mod
The North Water, by Ian McGuire

The North Water

UK Publication Date: February 11, 2016
US Publication Date: March 15, 2016
336 pp

A 19th-century whaling ship sets sail for the Arctic with a killer aboard in this dark, sharp and highly original tale that grips like a thriller.

Behold the man: stinking, drunk, brutal and bloodthirsty, Henry Drax is a harpooner on the Volunteer, a Yorkshire whaling ship bound for the hunting waters of the Arctic Circle. Also aboard is Patrick Sumner, an ex-army surgeon with a shattered reputation, no money and no better option than to embark as ship's medic on this ill-fated voyage.

In India during the Siege of Delhi, Sumner thought he had experienced the depths to which a man can stoop and imagined he'd find respite on the Volunteer, but now, trapped in the wooden belly of the ship with Drax, he encounters pure evil and is forced to act. As the true purposes of the expedition become clear, the confrontation between the two men plays out in the freezing darkness of an Arctic winter.


message 2: by Lascosas (new)

Lascosas | 456 comments A rip-roaring adventure story for adults. Non-stop action from the Mutiny in India to a whaling adventure in the far North. Leaving out spoilers makes it hard to say much since this is so plot driven, but our main character, a young surgeon from Ireland, is eager to make his way in the world, but the world is determined to deny him. Men are in general rascals or worse, and there are many evil deeds strewn across this book.

The book takes place in the mid-19th century, but no effort is made to use vernacular of the day, except for the rather odd repetition of 'int' for not or ain't. So there is somewhat of a disconnect between the very period scenes and the language used to describe them, and particularly the dialog. But that is a minor complaint. The language is gripping. Sentences are clear and short, but powerfully presented with a leanness that fit the settings.

One of the very few non-evil characters with a fully developed sense of self (versus the few 'innocents' who appear and then quickly disappear) tells our main character...heck, our hero, a dream he had, a dream he is certain is prophesy. Terrible things will happen to everyone except the hero, who will die in a different time, and in a different manner. The book ends with a short chapter that is ambiguous because of that prophesy. After the action driven lack of ambiguity throughout, I thought this light touch at the end was quite successful.


message 3: by Lee (new) - added it

Lee Available at 99p for Amazon Kindlers...


message 4: by Ang (new)

Ang | 1685 comments Facing a long ride in a car on Friday and I have this on Audible so I am going to try listening to it instead of reading it.


Antonomasia | 2629 comments Has anyone read both this and Patrick O'Brien? I'd love to know how the two compare.


message 6: by Dan (new)

Dan Antonomasia wrote: "Has anyone read both this and Patrick O'Brien? I'd love to know how the two compare."
@Antonomasia, I read the initial eighteen or nineteen volumes of the Patrick O'Brian's Aubrey-Maturin series more than a decade ago. I saved the final one or two volumes for later enjoyment, and then never returned to them.

Perhaps oddly, the comparison of The North Water to Aubrey-Maturin never occurred to me while I was reading The North Water. O'Brian, as I recall, focuses on politics, war, his two main characters, the innards of life in the British navy in the early 19th century, and the innards of naval ships. The series is very engaging, although perhaps somewhat tedious at times, and Aubrey and Maturin are both engaging and sympathetic characters as well. I should add that my interest and enjoyment in reading the Aubrey-Maturin series greatly surprised me, since I have no interest or curiosity about British naval history (or any other naval history), no interest in nineteenth century war boats (or any other war boats), and no particularly interest in the early nineteenth century.

The overall "feel" of the Aubrey-Maturin novels is completely different than that of The North Water, especially in their characters.

I'm thankful for your question, Antonomasia: you've reminded to return to the series and read the final one or two volumes. I just hope that I won't fully re-engage with Aubrey and Maturin, and then go back and reread the initial eighteen novels!


message 7: by Antonomasia (last edited Aug 15, 2016 02:45PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Antonomasia | 2629 comments This is a lot of fun in a grim kind of way, but I am noticing more annoying cliches in it than most reviewers I've read. 60% in, I am particularly miffed about (view spoiler)
Literary beach read definitely, Booker worthy, less sure.

Sumner, in my head, still looks like Maturin from the film of Master & Commander.


Doug My three star review (possibly spoiler-ish):

Every year the Booker Prize committee nominates at least one, sometimes several, books I like to refer to as 'Boy's Adventure Stories for Grown-ups', in which the author extends himself (and yes, it IS always a male author!) in his descriptions and depictions of unremitting violence and gore. Unfortunately, for the past two years, those examples have ultimately won the prize, much to my disappointment and chagrin. This year's exemplar is McGuire's whale of a tale, which at least distinguishes itself with vivid prose several shades better than it needs to be. However, much of the plot is generic and foreseeable, equal parts Melville and Cormac McCarthy - and there are several set pieces (the appendix operation; numerous gross eating scenes, unremitting descriptions of vomit, piss and feces; as well as the huddling inside a freshly killed animal straight out of 'The Revenant') that rival the amputation scene in 'Narrow Road...' for stomach churning grotesquerie. Not my cuppa, but I wouldn't be at all surprised to find it on the shortlist, or even prevailing for the win.


message 9: by Viv (new) - rated it 4 stars

Viv JM | 37 comments I don't think I've ever read a book with so many descriptions of bodily fluids in all their forms! I thought this was thrilling and entertaining, but didn't feel especially literary. I enjoyed the ride though, and rounded 3.5 stars up to 4 in appreciation of its exuberance.


message 10: by Eric (new) - rated it 1 star

Eric | 257 comments Oh man (Booker), I did not like this book. I thought the story was fine and the pages moved quickly enough, but not even close enough to make up for the ridiculous grossness. I'm not necessarily opposed to this (I loved Blood Meridian for example), but not a page went by that I didn't consider the author's choice to include such gruesomeness. Totally unnecessarily. To me it felt that the story was created so that such things could be written. "I want to write about rape and murder and shit and vomit. Oh, I know, a whaling thriller!" At some point I found myself calling to my wife "Somebody's pooping" every other page. We have two kids in diapers at the moment, so this was not only troubling for the story, but confusing around the house as well. In retrospect, that may have been my favorite part of the reading experience. Final note: This is the first book I've ever read with the idea of reading some selections for the Booker Longlist. Not a great start!


Antonomasia | 2629 comments In that case, I would suggest you don't make Eileen your next choice.


message 12: by Eric (new) - rated it 1 star

Eric | 257 comments Does she poop a lot as well?


message 14: by Eric (new) - rated it 1 star

Eric | 257 comments Touche. Thanks for the anti-recommendation.
I've actually read My Name is Lucy Barton and am in the middle of Work Like Any Other, and I'm faring much better with those.


MisterHobgoblin The North Water is a rollicking adventure story wrapped around a tale of violence, treachery and fear.

Starting out in Hull, we find a whaling ship, the Volunteer, in search of crew to head off to the Arctic. As one might expect, it's a strange sort of person who signs up for such a mission. At best, it will be long, cold and cramped; at worst, it could be a one way ticket. There are promises of rewards - both the voyage fee and the prospect of claiming personal spoils along the way. As such, the men are competing against each other for those spoils, never trust one another but utterly dependent on one another for survival. And in the case of The Volunteer, the crew are fully justified in not trusting one another. What seems to start out as some alcohol infused violence in port soon starts to look like a habit.

There are moments of suspense, but this is not a standard thriller. The reader learns soon enough who's who in the zoo. The real tension, then, is the interdependence when one of the crew turns out to be a monster and when some of the crew seem to be on a different mission from everyone else.

The North Water is a brilliant period piece populated by larger-than-life cartoon heroes and villains, eskimos and whalefishes. And opium. There's plenty of opium. The plot keeps twisting and turning, and just as soon as the reader knows what is going on there is another paradigm shift. The narrative voice carries the whole thing through with a rare combination of earnest first person present narration and some very dry humour.

This isn't a novel that feels like it's trying hard; the brilliance is in its seeming effortlessness. It's fun, even though in parts it is quite horrific. I'm pleased to see a book like this on the Booker longlist - it reminds me quite a lot of Jamrach's Menagerie from the 2011 Booker shortlist but I think The North Water takes the concept up to an even higher level.


message 16: by Louise (new) - added it

Louise | 224 comments This was a dnf for me - I can appreciate the originality - but I'm a bit too squeamish I guess :-)


message 17: by Ang (new)

Ang | 1685 comments We got through chapter 9 on our long car journey and I have the book, so I intended to pick it up and continue reading. I just have no desire to do so. It's certainly adventurous, but to me, boring.


Trudie (trudieb) Started this today and already I feel that finally here is a book I can get behind... Mr Hobgoblin, again we agree on a book !.
I am very pleased to find this on the longlist and although some might dismiss it as a "exercise in genre" - the exact meaning of which is not clear to me ... I feel it has merits that earn it it's place on this list ....


Jonathan Pool The North Water is by far the easiest read on this years Booker long list.
This is a real "page turner" that races along in an uncomplicated way. There are passages (literally!) of real excitement and the predominantly bad and barbaric leading characters convince.
It's sometimes hard to recommend books to friends, particularly if their reading is only occasional. Not so with this one; I am confident I can forecast which of my friends will love it, and those who will be repelled.
Gratuitous, unrelenting, uncompromising, brutal, bestial; all adjectives which readily come to mind.
Along with David Szalay's "All That Man Is" The North Water is unequivocally a man's book, and consequently I think it will fall just short in this year's Booker contest.

If the Booker panel want to bring unknown writers, from small publishing houses, to a new and wide ranging reading audience, then this is the book to do it. If the call is for more cerebral, deeply meaningful messages, then the award best go elsewhere.


message 20: by Ang (new)

Ang | 1685 comments I wouldn't call All That Man Is a man's book. In fact, I don't agree there is such a thing.


message 21: by Antonomasia (last edited Sep 06, 2016 12:51PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Antonomasia | 2629 comments On the first page of Goodreads reviews [with "text only" selected so it included friend reviews], equal numbers of men and women rated The North Water 4 or 5 stars. (12 m, 12 f) Curiously it was the same for All That Man Is (5 m, 5f - a lot more lower ratings or no rating/ didn't finish for this book)


message 22: by Lark (new) - rated it 3 stars

Lark Benobi (larkbenobi) | 424 comments A reasonable definition for "a man's book" to me = "book with all male characters in it, and primarily taking place in an all-male environment." This one more or less qualifies, although there are a couple of walk-on parts for female characters. It reminded me of Jack London's The Sea Wolf--as with that book female characters are not critical to the story. That doesn't mean the novel can't be enjoyed by all, but for me as a reader I did think it had an overabundance manly themes, plus viscera, both to a degree where I felt clobbered over the head and stunned, something like a hunted seal


message 23: by MisterHobgoblin (last edited Sep 06, 2016 02:56PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

MisterHobgoblin Does that mean a book with female characters is a woman's book?

Or how about a book with black characters - is that a black person's book?


Trudie (trudieb) I really enjoyed this book even though the only females as I recall were a prostitute and a native lady making stews - so it is certainly not going to pass the Bechdel test.
I would say it is a book with masculine themes rather than a man's book.


Jonathan Pool Trudie
I wasn't familiar with the Bechdel test, so thanks for that reference. Your summary "masculine themes" is indisputable, but I still think it goes further than that.

I recall a general news story concerning the Booker Prize competition in 2014. A 'mystery punter' correctly forecast the winner "The Narrow Road To The Deep North", against the odds.
He apparently analysed the biographies of the judging panel and didn't bother to read any of the listed books.
One of the punter's conclusions was that Narrow Road's love story counter balanced the more harrowing descriptions of life in the camps and on the railway.
In the punter's eyes this was a narrative requisite for the book to have the necessary wider appeal across the judging panel.
While I believe this conclusion to be unduly simplistic, and probably condescending, I nonetheless accord in the view that readers are likely to be pre disposed to the types of literature they will take up and engage with in the first place.
A great virtue of the Booker list is that the range of book subject matter, gender of writer, writing style, is generally broad based, and gets readers to move out of their comfort zone.
The North Water and All That Man Is are both dominated by male characters; but while that may be a factor in their reception by women, it's not the essence of what makes me think of them as men's books.

Henry Drax describes himself as a "do-er", not a thinker or rationaliser. He has no soul. Every character actively seeks out death and confrontation (by signing up to the expedition). That's not my personal experience of women's approach to life.
I doubt too that too many women choose to watch films that feature war, or gangsters (women seem to groan when men routinely cite 'The Godfather' as favourite film), or serial killers. These are staple genres for men.

There's still much to like in The North Water that's of universal appeal. Whale hunting always elicits a sense of excitement; the bleakness in the Arctic; the prospect of abandonment.

The Goodreads reviewers giving just 1 star to The North Water breakdown by gender 75% women to 25 % men


message 26: by Antonomasia (last edited Sep 07, 2016 03:30AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Antonomasia | 2629 comments This small study suggests that men may be abandoning books they dislike before they necessarily get to the stage of rating them.

Although that isn't my personal impression on Goodreads. (Discussions like this can so easily boil down to personal impressions.) I notice a lot more instances of men - probably more academically-inclined men than those in the study - ploughing through books they can't stand until the bitter end, and women abandoning maybe half way through and still reviewing. (The women who spring to mind as doing this most frequently, however, review a lot of ARCs, which means they are not choosing and getting books under the same conditions as the average reader.)

I had thought All That Man Is might fall into the study's category of books about feelings by male authors that men were as likely to abandon as similar books by women. It's hard to tell - some men who like literary fiction certainly like it; guys who read mostly thrillers might find it boring, but there aren't exactly loads of reviews from them to ascertain.


message 27: by Hugh (new)

Hugh (bodachliath) | 3590 comments Mod
Antonomasia wrote: "This small study suggests that men may be abandoning books they dislike before they necessarily get to the stage of rating them.

Although that isn't my personal impression on Goodreads. (Discussio..."

Interesting, but one factor it does not take into account is that the books in the trial were free to the reader. I'm not sure how typical I am, but if I have paid for a book I am reluctant to abandon it too early, whereas if a copy is available for nothing (for example in a friend's bookshelf or a place I am staying) I may read a few pages
out of curiosity without necessarily having any intention to read more.


Antonomasia | 2629 comments I think I can usually tell how much I'll like a book on the basis of a short extract like a Kindle sample, so am equally puzzled by people reading half or a whole book they dislike unless it's for some sort of project. (Which a fair few of those I see on Goodreads are in fairness: whole longlists, reviewing ARCs, discussion groups, reading an author's complete works.)

Stats from Kobo like those reported here may provide better info on people's habits with ebooks they bought. Surprisingly low completion rates. Unless there are an awful lot of people like me who take breaks of months or weeks in the middle of books.


Trudie (trudieb) Jonathan wrote: "Trudie
I doubt too that too many women choose to watch films that feature war, or gangsters (women seem to groan when men routinely cite 'The Godfather' as favourite film), or serial killers. These are staple genres for men.
."


I love the Godfather films and also war films - Apocalypse now, All Quiet on the Western Front, males of my acquaintance dislike intensely many war films and prefer watching Notting Hill - so I think you have to be careful making sweeping statements about gender and tastes in fiction or film.


message 30: by Antonomasia (last edited Sep 07, 2016 06:12AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Antonomasia | 2629 comments I've heard it said a few times that a lot of the goriest contemporary thrillers, at least in the UK, are by female authors. Hard to quantify, but a search (in which I included Mo Hayder, one of the authors who's always mentioned in that context) instantly turned up a couple of articles. Which does show that it's something people have been noticing for at least the last ten years.

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/art... (Daily Mail)
https://www.theguardian.com/books/200... (Julie Bindel)
Two sources I'm not fond of, but it's interesting to see them on the same page for once; they aren't exactly known for agreeing on a wide range of issues.


Holly | 1 comments Interesting thread. But don't forget the female-authored Jamrach's Menagerie on the 2011 Short List - Carol Birch's "boy's adventure story" about a whaling ship that includes an extended, harrowing, and very gory cannibalism scene among characters adrift at sea. (In Doug's comment of Aug 20 he said: Every year the Booker Prize committee nominates at least one, sometimes several, books I like to refer to as 'Boy's Adventure Stories for Grown-ups', in which the author extends himself (and yes, it IS always a male author!) in his descriptions and depictions of unremitting violence and gore..


Trudie (trudieb) I am going to have to read that one now Holly.


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