The North Water is Ian McGuire’s tale about a whaling expedition beginning in Hull and heading up to Jan Mayen Island (think way above Iceland), then around Greenland and into Canada’s Lancaster Sound. Aside from the yucky whaling, it sounds like a picturesque and educational voyage, but with a serial killer for a shipmate and a clandestine insurance fraud scheme in play, this trip into the north waters is anything but a pleasure cruise. Sadly, Hollywood and the media have done such a job on our senses, that the book’s revulsive aspect loses some of its impact because we are inundated with so many killers on TV, in movies and in the news. If Anthony Hopkins had played Drax before Lecter, what a sensation this book would have been.
Although on the Booker Long List, The North Water is more a good yarn, than literature. There’s nothing wrong with that, it was just a bit surprising. The writing is skilled, but is there any reason to analyze Drax or Sumner? Will you feel compelled to contrast Sumner to Drax? Does the author have a message for the reader? Without really chasing it, the answer could be no. You will have to decide…and quickly, it’s a page-turner.