From the publisher:
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.
“Their world is hard enough, they think, without the added burden of moral convolution.”
I really love books about bleak landscapes such as John Irving’s the Last Night in Twisted River or Hannah Kent’s Burial Rites, and now I can add the North Water to the list.
This is the tale of the men aboard the whaling ship, the Volunteer. All of these men are foul in their own ways, but this story focuses primarily on Drax, a harpooner, and Sumner, a drug addicted medic. From the realities of survival on a whaling ship, to the descriptions of the violent cold, the North Water is beautifully crafted.
This book is brutal and vile, but it works because the writing is so damn good and the story is incredibly engaging. This is my top pick (so far!) for the Man Booker 2016 award.