Van has finished reading…The North Water by Ian McGuire

7 Oct

What a cast of characters! Historical fiction this may be but don’t expect to find any Mr D’Arcy rising up out of the drink. Even in the more ‘respectable’ roles – the ship’s captains, the merchants, the medical professionals – there’s a distinct sense of decline rather than aspiration. There’s a very modern sensibility about the book too in that it’s undoubtedly the sweariest thing I’ve read in a very long time. The sheer frequency of it jars at first though in point of fact it doesn’t feel out of character at all. There’s very little pandering to the peculiarities of olde-tyme diction that can so easily hamper the telling of the tale.

To say I enjoyed reading Ian McGuire’s North Water wouldn’t be quite the right word; it’s not that kind of story. Don’t doubt that it’s a deeply engaging read. It starts low and rather than rising does its level best to deepen the well. Through the entire cast of characters there are very few redeeming features, and those present are far outweighed by the darker balance of everyone else. It’s actually quite refreshing in a strange way, and likely befitting what was essentially frontier territory where the usual rules should apply but rarely do.

It would be fair to say that it’s easy to lose yourself in the story. The writing flows and there’s a genuine captivation in wondering just how far these damned souls are prepared to go. Although it’s the bleakest of landscapes McGuire’s sense of scene renders it deftly. There is power as well as beauty in his description, the backdrop working to enhance the sense of danger, of claustrophobia, of inevitability.

It is dark and it is dangerous, an unrelenting arctic night of a tale that might just leave you feeling grubby, but for my money it’s definitely worth the fare.

The North Water will be published by Scribner in February 2016 ISBN:9781471151248


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