The North Water

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The North Water by Ian McGuire
The North Water
Buy The North Water by Ian McGuire


A nineteenth-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.

The North Water

In India, during the Siege of Delhi, Patrick 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, The North Water weaves a superlative story of humanity under the most extreme conditions.

Praise for The North Water

“Ian McGuire’s savage new novel about a 19th-century Arctic whaling expedition, is a great white shark of a book — swift, terrifying, relentless and unstoppable. It is also as epically bloody as a Jacobean drama or a Cormac McCarthy novel.”

— Michiko Kakutani

The New York Times

“A tour de force of narrative tension and a masterful reconstruction of a lost world that seems to exist at the limits of the human imagination.”

— Hilary Mantel

New York Times bestselling author of Wolf Hall

“This is a novel that takes us to the limits of flesh and blood. Utterly convincing and compelling, remorselessly vivid, and insidiously witty, The North Water is a startling achievement.”

— Martin Amis

New York Times bestselling author of Zone of Interest

The North Water is the rare novel capable of making a past time and place palpable. Ian McGuire writes with a poet's attentiveness to detail, which infuses this dark and violent novel with an unsettling beauty.”

— Ron Rash

New York Times bestselling author of Serena and Above the Waterfall

The North Water is a whaling novel in the same way that Blood Meridian is a western. I enjoyed the brashness and the economy of the writing, the sense of humanity, and the sly, black humor. The novel wasn't afraid to take chances and I was surprised several times. I was always entertained. . . . An exceedingly well-written historical adventure.”

— Shannon Burke

author of Into the Savage Country

“If one took Melville's dream journal and compiled the nightmares into one harrowing novel, it would be Ian McGuire's The North Water. The claustrophobic conflict between the flawed humanity of Patrick Sumner and the supernatural evil of Henry Drax examines the brutal depths of the human soul.”

— James Scott

author of The Kept

“Enthralling and brutal. A vivisection of hard men in a cold world, and a propulsive, suspenseful adventure into the darkness of mortal existence.”

— Dennis Mahoney

author of Bell Weather and Fellow Mortals

“A dark, brilliant yarn….An amazing journey.”

Publishers Weekly

starred review

“A raw and compulsively readable swashbuckler about the whaling business, with violence and intrigue in dirty port towns and on the high seas. There are many disturbing interactions between people and people, and people and animals — think The Revenant for the Arctic Circle.”

The Millions

“McGuire delivers one bravura set-piece after another... The North Water has, in places, a Conrad–Melville undercurrent, but for the most part it is Dickens’s influence that is most keenly felt... This is a stunning novel, one that snares the reader from the outset and keeps the tightest grip until its bitter end.”

Financial Times

“McGuire delivers not only arresting depictions of bloody destruction, but moments of fine prose that recall Seamus Heaney's harsh music, as when an iceberg is described as 'an albinistic butte unmoored from the desert floor.' For noirish thrills in an unusual setting, McGuire has the goods and the gore...”

Kirkus Reviews

Cast and Crew of The North Water

The Volunteer

  • Henry Drax

    A harpooner on the Volunteer. Drax is a “squat” man with a “barnyard scent.” He acts on his primal instincts and sometimes seems more animal than man.

    “I’m a doer, not a thinker, me. I follow my own inclination.”

    —Henry Drax

  • Arthur Brownlee

    Captain of the Volunteer. Brownlee’s recklessness led to the demise of his last ship, the Percival. It is a wonder how he became captain of another ship.

    “You know Brownlee has a great deal to prove—you heard about the Percival, I’m sure. He was lucky to get another ship after. If he fails this time, that will be the end of him.”

  • Jacob Baxter

    Owner of the Volunteer. Jacob Baxter is a shrewd businessman who knows the whaling industry is dying—it’s all petroleum now. And, yet, he funds the Volunteer’s voyage.

    “And what do we think of Mr. Baxter.”
    “We think he’s rich,” the chemist answers, “and round these parts a man don’t generally get rich by being stupid.”

  • Patrick Sumner

    An ex-army surgeon. Sumner left his post in Delhi when he learned that he had inherited his uncle’s dairy farm in Ireland. Considering his good fortune, why did he apply for the miserable job of surgeon on a Greenland whaling ship?

    “Come,” he says, “every man has his history surely.”
    Sumner shakes his head.
    “Not me,” he says.

  • Michael Cavendish

    First mate on the Volunteer. Though, given how poorly respected Cavendish is, it’s a wonder how he earned that position.

    “Cavendish is a great turd and a whoremonger, it’s true, but he will do whatever he’s told to.”

  • Mr. Black

    Second mate on the Volunteer. Mr. Black is known as a decent, ambitious man with a good head on his shoulders.

    “I have a plan. Five years from now, or sooner if I get my share of luck, I’ll have my own command.”

  • Otto

    A German harpooner on the Volunteer. He is a “broad-chested” man and a “deep thinker with a mystic bent.”

    “The light is what we truly are, that is our immortal essence. But only when the flesh falls away can the truth shine through.”

About Ian McGuire

Ian McGuire
© Paul Wolfgang Webster

Ian McGuire grew up near Hull, England, and studied at the University of Manchester and the University of Virginia. He is the cofounder and codirector 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.

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