The North Water by Ian McGuire
A Novel

76%

20 Critic Reviews

McGuire has an extraordinary talent for picturing a moment, offering precise, sharp, cinematic details. When he has to describe complex action, he ­manages the physicality with immense clarity.
-NY Times

Synopsis

One of The New York Times Book Review's 10 Best Books of the Year

National Bestseller

Longlisted for the Man Booker Prize

Winner of the RSL Encore Award

Finalist for the Los Angeles Book Prize

A New York Times and Wall Street Journal Bestseller

Named a Best Book of the Year by Chicago Tribune, The Wall Street Journal, The Guardian, New Statesman, Publishers Weekly, and Chicago Public Library


Behold the man: stinking, drunk, and brutal. Henry Drax is a harpooner on the Volunteer, a Yorkshire whaler bound for the rich hunting waters of the arctic circle. Also aboard for the first time is Patrick Sumner, an ex-army surgeon with a shattered reputation, no money, and no better option than to sail as the ship's medic on this violent, filthy, and ill-fated voyage.

In India, during the Siege of Delhi, Sumner thought he had experienced the depths to which man can stoop. He had hoped to find temporary respite on the Volunteer, but rest proves impossible with Drax on board. The discovery of something evil in the hold rouses Sumner to action. And as the confrontation between the two men plays out amid the freezing darkness of an arctic winter, the fateful question arises: who will survive until spring?

With savage, unstoppable momentum and the blackest wit, Ian McGuire's The North Water weaves a superlative story of humanity under the most extreme conditions.

 

About Ian McGuire

See more books from this Author
Ian McGuire grew up near Hull and studied at the University of Manchester and the University of Virginia in the United States. He is the co-founder and co-director of the University of Manchester's Centre for New Writing. He writes criticism and fiction, and his stories have been published in Chicago Review, The Paris Review, and elsewhere.
 
Published March 15, 2016 by Henry Holt and Co.. 270 pages
Genres: History, Mystery, Thriller & Suspense, Literature & Fiction, Action & Adventure, Crime. Fiction
Bestseller Status:
icon15
Peak Rank on Jan 22 2017
icon1
Weeks as Bestseller
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Critic reviews for The North Water
All: 20 | Positive: 16 | Negative: 4

Kirkus

Above average
on Jan 18 2016

For noirish thrills in an unusual setting, McGuire has the goods and the gore, but this book—graphic in its violence, language, and sexual references—is not for the squeamish.

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Publishers Weekly

Excellent
on Aug 13 2016

There is no light, no letup in this gruesome tale, so there is great significance in the rare but moving acts of kindness and camaraderie between these men in peril. An amazing journey.

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NY Times

Good
Reviewed by Colm Tóibín on Apr 11 2016

McGuire has an extraordinary talent for picturing a moment, offering precise, sharp, cinematic details. When he has to describe complex action, he ­manages the physicality with immense clarity.

Read Full Review of The North Water: A Novel | See more reviews from NY Times

NY Times

Good
Reviewed by Michiko Kakutani on Mar 31 2016

He has written an allusion-filled novel that still manages to feel original, a violent tale of struggle and survival in a cinematically beautiful landscape reminiscent of the movie “The Revenant” but rendered with far more immediacy and considerably less self-importance.

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Guardian

Above average
Reviewed by Helen Dunmore on Feb 19 2016

Ice crushes everything in its way, from the skin to the soul. The North Water does not work in every dimension, but it succeeds as a tale of darkness.

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Financial Times

Good
Reviewed by Malcolm Forbes on Feb 05 2016

For all its bleakness though, this is a stunning novel, one that snares the reader from the outset and keeps the tightest grip until its bitter end.

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NY Times

Good
Reviewed by Michiko Kakutani on Mar 31 2016

Mr. McGuire nimbly folds all these melodramatic developments into his story as it hurtles toward its conclusion. He has written an allusion-filled novel that still manages to feel original, a violent tale of struggle and survival in a cinematically beautiful landscape...

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The Independent

Excellent
Reviewed by James Kidd on Mar 14 2016

While the mood is generally gloomy, the flashes of tenderness and decency shine all the brighter. Behold: one of the finest books of the year.

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The Independent

Above average
Reviewed by David Evans on Feb 09 2016

McGuire expertly arranges all this mayhem, and the narrative is horrifically gripping. Or perhaps that should be, grippingly horrific. Some readers may deem the gothic-sensationalist elements overdone...but McGuire’s focus on the visceral details of whaling certainly lends the book a fishy whiff of authenticity.

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Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Good
Reviewed by JONATHAN ARAC on Jun 12 2016

Readers of Cormac McCarthy know that beautiful writing and bloody murder go together as well now as they did in Homer, and Ian McGuire proves it.

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Open Letters Monthly

Below average
Reviewed by Rohan Maitzen on Oct 20 2016

I was disappointed in The North Water in the end, though, for reasons that its protagonist, ship’s surgeon Patrick Sumner, neatly articulates: although a lot happens, there is no why to it all.

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PopMatters

Good
Reviewed by JEFF STROWE on Jun 08 2016

With his nose for realistic detail and a barrage of gruesomely rendered images, McGuire manages to offer much about what life was like aboard these vessels.

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Irish Times

Above average
Reviewed by Paraic O’Donnell on Feb 13 2016

As a stylist, too, McGuire is never less than assured. Though he keeps the prose lean for the most part, he allows himself occasional flourishes. While these occasionally misfire (the dockside air, perplexingly, has “a bathetic pong”), there are many instances of arresting brilliance.

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The New Zealand Herald

Good
Reviewed by P.K. Stowers on Apr 20 2016

If I had any complaints about this novel - and I don't really - it would be that you don't get much of feel for life aboard the ship amid the brutality, so fans of Patrick O'Brien should not expect copious maritime detail.

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The Australian

Excellent
Reviewed by JAMES McNAMARA on Apr 23 2016

McGuire is a laureate of the fierce and bloody, the reeking and torn. The North Water is confronting and savage, but that is part of its high literary value — an unflinching study of evil and the violence of the past.

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New Zealand Listener

Good
Reviewed by Chris Else on Apr 29 2016

This rip-snorting tale told at a break-neck pace is also witty and thought-provoking, turning in on itself to raise questions about the nature of evil and the resilience of civilised values.

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SeniorWomen.com

Above average
Reviewed by Joan L. Cannon on Apr 13 2017

For readers who like adventure and macho behavior, subdued heroism with a dollop of basic cynicism, this will be a memorable experience. For others who prefer some entertainment with a slice of terrible life, The North Water will be a trial in spite of its artistry.

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https://bookpage.com

Above average
Reviewed by Kenneth Champeon on Mar 15 2016

...it is dense without depth, and his few attempts at waxing philosophical seem strained. He is best at dialogue and in his workmanlike descriptions of the gory labor entailed by the whaling endeavor. Yet behold the man we do, and McGuire's novel is an unnerving reminder of the struggles of our civilization's past.

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https://lareviewofbooks.org

Above average
Reviewed by Joshua Rigsby on Apr 07 2016

The North Water is a prizefight zealously described for radio. Every detail we hear about the men in the ring serves a singular purpose: to add texture to the crunching blows and viscosity to the spraying blood. Those listening for the pleasure of imagining expectorated gore will be satisfied; others will quickly decide to change the station.

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https://litreactor.com

Below average
Reviewed by MAX BOOTH III on Mar 18 2016

...I kept reading it, and I didn’t hate the book as much as I expected after the ugly opener. This is a book full of very disgusting, evil men. Men who maybe aren’t as developed as I’d like, but men nonetheless. It’s okay to hate a book’s characters, but it’s not okay not to care about them at all.

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Reader Rating for The North Water
83%

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