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The North Water PDF, ePub eBook


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Title: The North Water
Author: Ian McGuire
Publisher: Published March 15th 2016 by Henry Holt and Co. (first published February 11th 2016)
ISBN: 9781627795944
Status : FREE Rating :
4.6 out of 5

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LONGLISTED FOR THE MAN BOOKER PRIZE 2016 A NEW YORK TIMES TOP TEN NOTABLE BOOK 2016 SHORTLISTED FOR THE LA TIMES BOOK PRIZE 2017 -- Winner of the RSL Encore Award 2017 -- A ship sets sail with a killer on board . . . 1859. A man joins a whaling ship bound for the Arctic Circle. Having left the British Army with his reputation in tatters, Patrick Sumner has little option but to LONGLISTED FOR THE MAN BOOKER PRIZE 2016 A NEW YORK TIMES TOP TEN NOTABLE BOOK 2016 SHORTLISTED FOR THE LA TIMES BOOK PRIZE 2017 -- Winner of the RSL Encore Award 2017 -- A ship sets sail with a killer on board . . . 1859. A man joins a whaling ship bound for the Arctic Circle. Having left the British Army with his reputation in tatters, Patrick Sumner has little option but to accept the position of ship's surgeon on this ill-fated voyage. But when, deep into the journey, a cabin boy is discovered brutally killed, Sumner finds himself forced to act. Soon he will face an evil even greater than he had encountered at the siege of Delhi, in the shape of Henry Drax: harpooner, murderer, monster . . . 'A tour de force' Hilary Mantel 'Riveting and darkly brilliant' Colm Tóibín

30 review for The North Water

  1. 5 out of 5

    Doug H

    Jack London on Steroids! This novel contains foul language, horrific gore, rape, murder, animal cruelty, and other examples of total moral bankruptcy and I absolutely loved it. Why? How could I? I loved it for the author’s laser-focused descriptive writing and realistic character development. I loved it for its highly suspenseful story and well-researched and seamlessly-blended historical detail. I loved it for its outward exploration of the Arctic world and for its more inward moral and psycholo Jack London on Steroids! This novel contains foul language, horrific gore, rape, murder, animal cruelty, and other examples of total moral bankruptcy and I absolutely loved it. Why? How could I? I loved it for the author’s laser-focused descriptive writing and realistic character development. I loved it for its highly suspenseful story and well-researched and seamlessly-blended historical detail. I loved it for its outward exploration of the Arctic world and for its more inward moral and psychological explorations. I also loved it for its total lack of postmodern gimmickry. The North Water: A Novel is a shining example of contemporary literary realism. According to his Goodreads bio, Ian McGuire has a PhD from UVA where he focused on American Realism and it shows in his writing. His style is deeply influenced by the authors he studied, but feels more modern and muscular. (Think of a Jack London story on steroids.) The unremitting gore in this novel is so vividly described and the vernacular of the characters is so completely foul that it eventually becomes humorous. (Maybe darkly witty is a better description; it’s definitely not a comedy.) I hope to forget Henry Drax some day (the most evil character I’ve come across in contemporary literature in a long time), but I doubt I’ll ever forget Patrick Sumner - the more morally complex and relatable character, the one who keeps the reader’s hope and interest afloat in a very dark and cold world. The ending felt a bit abrupt, but that could just be because I didn’t want the story to end. It’s a great read and I highly recommend it. Five stars.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Jeffrey Keeten

    ”There is no sin left now, there is only the blood and the water and the ice; there is only life and death and the grey-green spaces in between. He will not die he tells himself, not now, not ever. When he is thirsty, he will drink his own blood; when he is hungry, he will eat his own flesh. He will grow enormous from the feasting, he will expand to fill the empty sky.” The Yorkshire whaler named the Volunteer is on its way to the Arctic Circle to hunt for whales. While other whalers go South, th ”There is no sin left now, there is only the blood and the water and the ice; there is only life and death and the grey-green spaces in between. He will not die he tells himself, not now, not ever. When he is thirsty, he will drink his own blood; when he is hungry, he will eat his own flesh. He will grow enormous from the feasting, he will expand to fill the empty sky.” The Yorkshire whaler named the Volunteer is on its way to the Arctic Circle to hunt for whales. While other whalers go South, they are going North. The captain has a theory that there is a pool of calm waters at the very center of the Arctic full of whales, more than enough to make a man rich. Of course, that is all poppycock. The Captain has to have some mad theory to justify going the wrong way during the wrong time of year. He is an unlucky captain. He has already lost a ship, so losing another will more than likely be the end of his career. Of course, as we discover, he is not mad nor unlucky, but has a mandate to make sure the ship becomes scuttled. One has to do these things at the right time and the right place, or instead of collecting your payment, you collect an icy grave. This isn’t the real story though. This book isn’t about the Captain or about the ship. This isn’t about defying the odds, although that does happen. This isn’t nature vs. man, though there is plenty of that. If Jack London could have written a book without any restrictions, he might have written this book. This is about two men who unknowingly are on a collision course that can only end one way. One man embraces the dark beast of his desires. ”It is not a matter of need or pleasure, not a matter of wanting or not wanting. The thirst carries him forward, blindly, easily. Tonight he will kill, but the killing is not topmost in his mind. The thirst is much deeper than the rage. The rage is fast and sharp, but the thirst is lengthy. The rage always has an ending a blood-soaked finale, but the thirst is bottomless and without limit.” His name is Drax. The more he kills, the less satisfaction he receives. The pain he gives to others must be magnified for it to satisfy his cravings. He is a perfect harpooner. Killing a whale, now at least for that moment he can feel like a GOD. ”’Give me one last groan,’ he says.’That’s it, my darling. One last shudder to help me find the true place. That’s it, my sweetheart. One more inch and then we’re done.’ He leans in harder, presses, seeking out the vital organs. The lance slides in another foot. A moment later, with a final roar, the whale shoots out a plume of pure heart’s blood high into the air and tilts over lifeless onto its side with its great fin raised like a flag of surrender. The men, empurpled, reeking, drenched in the fish’s steaming, expectorated gore, stand up in their flimsy boats and cheer their triumph.” His crimes against nature and against man have no beginning or an end. He is a man at war with everything. He takes what he wants. With whores, the more pain he can give them, the more pleasure he receives. With cabin boys, they must do what he wants, or he slits their throats. He steals. He cheats. He is unbounded by any laws. His thirst is unquenchable. On the scale of humanity, he stands at the bottom...alone. Then there is Patrick Sumner, an unlikely hero. A man addicted to laudanum. A surgeon who has recently been cashiered out of military service in India due to pilfering. He is trying to escape his past, but finds it impossible, even with the help of the opiate, to escape himself. Whalers are used to hiring men with a past; few normal men would do this work. Only desperate men with few other options will sign up to be on a ship reeking with death. Sumner is trying to become nothing, but finds he must embrace his own darkness if he has any chance of destroying Drax. ”He drops the blubber knife onto the snow and pushes both his bare hands down into the dead bear’s steaming guts. His frozen fingers feel like they might burst apart from the warmth. He grinds his teeth and pushes his hands in deeper. When the pain reduces he pulls them out, dripping with red, rubs his face and beard with the hot blood, then picks up the knife again and begins to sever and remove the bear’s innards.” When Sumner finds himself facing death, he finds that he does have the will to do whatever it takes to survive. In that moment he is Drax. He chases this bear for hours, knowing that if he catches him and kills him, he will live. If he doesn’t, he will most assuredly perish. The chase scene for me was vintage Jack London. Man trying to overcome nature. There are no feminists in this book. They, in fact, are suspicious of women. ”Behind every piece of sweet-smelling female loveliness lies a world of stench and doggery.” If there ever was a mother in these men’s lives, she is but a distant memory. They only know sluts and whores and women who try to cheat them out of their pay. They are brutal men who club baby seals, shoot polar bears with cubs, and kill the most magnificent creatures on earth. They do it for money. They do it for pleasure. Ian McGuire writes an unflinching novel about these men and what they are tasked to do. The brutality is unbridled. The feralness of their needs is embraced and helps them to survive. You aren’t supposed to like them, but you can’t deny how real they are. The portraits are stark, and all of them ring true. Drax is a force of nature, completely unprincipled in his view of life, and more dangerous than any villain I’ve met in a long time. He is McGuire’s most stunning creation. Sumner isn’t the right man to stop Drax, but in the end it turns out he is the only one who has a chance. Recommended for the brave at heart. If you wish to see more of my most recent book and movie reviews, visit http://www.jeffreykeeten.com I also have a Facebook blogger page at:https://www.facebook.com/JeffreyKeeten

  3. 4 out of 5

    karen

    congratulations! semifinalist in goodreads' best historical fiction category 2016! "I'd venture the Good Lord don't spend much time up here in the North Water," he says with a smile. "It's most probable he don't like the chill." if Moby-Dick; or, The Whale had been more like this, i would have loved it. note to melville - next time, less rope & anatomy, more murder & brutality. you're a young kid, hermie, you'll get there… this book is grit lit gone to sea, where all the staples of the genr congratulations! semifinalist in goodreads' best historical fiction category 2016! "I'd venture the Good Lord don't spend much time up here in the North Water," he says with a smile. "It's most probable he don't like the chill." if Moby-Dick; or, The Whale had been more like this, i would have loved it. note to melville - next time, less rope & anatomy, more murder & brutality. you're a young kid, hermie, you'll get there… this book is grit lit gone to sea, where all the staples of the genre: the violence, the desperation, the struggles of the working-class, the moral relativism; where capital-m men doing all the shit that needs doing, be it difficult or shady, are shoved into a nineteenth-century whaling boat and headed up north to the arctic circle to harpoon some whales. and then it's just one horrible thing after another. not only is it all the horrible things that always happen on whaling boats in the nineteenth century - where it's cold and the food sucks and it's smelly and on a good day there's the danger of sharp objects being flung around on an unstable foundation by men who are likely very drunk at a gigantic creature who does not want to have sharp objects thrown at it and will thrash about frantically, but here there's also blackmail, secret agendas, the violent sexual assault of a cabin boy, murrrrderrrrs and…henry drax. drax is absolutely the star of this here show. he is man at his most unadorned and uncivilized, in many ways more beast than man; He grasps on to the world like a dog biting into bone - nothing is obscure to him, nothing is separate from his fierce and sullen appetites. but although he is driven by these animal appetites and impulses, he also has a man's ability to scheme, to calculate, which makes him a most dangerous beast indeed. although he claims "I'm a doer, not a thinker, me. I follow my inclination," that in itself is a deception in the interests of self-preservation, and one which drax equates with any other animal trait: He finds the lying comes easy enough, of course. Words are just noises in a certain order, and he can use them any way he wishes. Pigs grunt, ducks quack, and men tell lies: that is how it generally goes. he's neither antihero nor villain, although he does some truly horrific things. he's something more elemental, primal; something predating social expectations, and so exempt from judgment on those terms: Drax's barnyard scent, dense and almost edible, dominates the room. He is like a beast at rest in its stall, Sumner thinks. A force of nature temporarily contained and pacified. and do you know what happens to people who don't trouble themselves with human niceties or the law? they fucking survive. oh, and it is quite a spectacle. this book is just a wonder. it's brutal and disgusting and contains some of the most vivid writing i have ever come across. this is not a spoiler, but it's a *very* long passage describing what happens when the whalers discover the floating carcass of a whale already starting to bloat and deciding to take what they can from it anyway, their hunt having been so unsuccessful. it's fantastic writing, and it makes whaling sound exciting, unlike that other bloated whale carcass of a book. (view spoiler)[They attach the decomposing body of the whale to the ship's gunwales, where it dangles like a vast and wholly rotten vegetable. Its tar-black skin is flaccid and intermittently abscessed; pale and cankerous growths mottle its fins and tail. The men who are cutting in wear dampened neckerchiefs across their faces and puff strong tobacco against the stench. The blocks of blubber they slice and peel away are miscolored and gelatinous - much more brown than pink. Swung up onto the deck, they drip not blood, as usual, but some foul straw-colored coagulation like the unspeakable rectal oozings of a human corpse. Cavendish strides about shouting instructions and generalized encouragement. Above him seabirds gather, wheeling and cacophonous, in the noisome air, while below in the grease-stained water, drawn in by the mixed aromas of blood and decay, Greenland sharks gnaw and tug at the whale's loose kiltings. "Give them sharks a knock or two on the bonce," Cavendish shouts down to Jones-the-whale. "Don't want them swallowing our profits now, do we?" Jones nods, takes a fresh blubber spade from the malemauk boat, waits for one of the sharks to come close enough, and then stabs at it, opening up a foot-long gash in its side. A loose-knit garland of entrails, pink, red, and purple, slurps immediately from the wound. The injured shark thrashes for a moment, then bends backwards and starts urgently gobbling its own insides. "Christ, those sharks are fucking beasts," Cavendish says. Jones finally kills it with a second spade-blow to the brain, then kills another one the same quick way. The two gray-green bodies, blunt and archaic, pumping out cloudy trails of blood, are further savaged before they sink by the attentions of a third and smaller animal, who leaves them gnawed and ragged as apple cores, then slips away before Black can dispatch him also. (hide spoiler)] there are many battles here: man v man, man v nature, man v whale, man v bear, bear v airedale … and oh my god, that baby bear. everything about that situation was so intense and heart-punching and yet another part of this book that just resonates with meaning and metaphor and life bursting at the seams. Sumner looks down at the bear still straining at its rope end, still gasping and growling and scratching at the deck in a primitive and implacable fury. and the TOOTH??? don't even get me started on that. in your eye, hercule poirot! it's a nice balance between gross n' bloody action and wilderness survival story and hard-living philosophy, where drax is basically the embodiment of nietzsche (in terms of his moral philosophy, not so much in his murdery parts), in conversations where sumner plays the straight man, forced to ask all the boring and obvious questions like, "You have no conscience then?" while the shackled drax gets to deliver all the fuck, yeah lines like: "One thing happens, then another comes after it. Why is the first thing more important than the second? Why is the second more important than the third? Tell me that." and "You please yourself, as I please myself. You accept what suits you and you reject what don't. The law is just a name they give to what a certain kind of men prefer." and there's even a little stage-wink to nietzsche, Talking to Drax is like shouting into the blackness and expecting the blackness to answer back in kind. there's way more to this book than drax. the dark past-having, opium-sucking ship's physician sumner gets much more stage-time, but he's just so much less fun. and that's why 4 stars instead of 5, even though it's a very high 4. it just got a little dull for me at the point where it became sumner doing his thing among the esquimaux. but then - it rallied like a mofo for an excellent ending that was SO fast-paced and satisfying, i forgave it those dull 70 pages or whatever. fantastic book, with many thanks to the shayne-train, who has written a really fun, and much shorter, review. tl;dr: The Revenant: A Novel of Revenge + grit-ship-lit, or, a more disgusting Moby-Dick; or, The Whale come to my blog!

  4. 4 out of 5

    Tatiana

    I would call this dicklit. I reserve this identifier for pseudo-manly books, like The North Water, which pretends to be some kind of deep, tough literature, but fails to hide that its author has an almost juvenile obsession with violence, gore and bowel movements. This is not grit, this is garbage. I am judging Hilary Mantel for blurbing this so hard right now...

  5. 4 out of 5

    Paul Bryant

    Scene 1 Enter a man followed by a man Man : Whut? Awk! (dies) Scene 2 Enter a whale followed by several whalers Whale : Aw shit! Ugh! No! (dies) Scene 3 Enter a dog followed by a bear Dog : Yah! Fuck you! Bark! (dies) Scene 4 Enter a bear followed by a man Bear : Aw hell, no – urghhhh! (dies) Scene 5 Enter three men First man : (dies) Second man : (dies) Scene 6 Enter an author Ian McGuire : And that’s how you get four stars from Paul Bryant. Easy!

  6. 4 out of 5

    mark monday

    synopsis: grueling misadventures on a 19th century whaling ship. well I suppose I have to admire how sustained the effort is. Ian McGuire is relentlessly focused on the visceral, that's for certain "...they drip not blood, as usual, but some foul straw-colored coagulation like the unspeakable rectal oozings of a human corpse..." yeah that phrase pretty much sums up the novel. the author wants to repel the reader. very little depth and zero resonance but a whole lot of brutality, atrocity, and sce synopsis: grueling misadventures on a 19th century whaling ship. well I suppose I have to admire how sustained the effort is. Ian McGuire is relentlessly focused on the visceral, that's for certain "...they drip not blood, as usual, but some foul straw-colored coagulation like the unspeakable rectal oozings of a human corpse..." yeah that phrase pretty much sums up the novel. the author wants to repel the reader. very little depth and zero resonance but a whole lot of brutality, atrocity, and scenes that revel in human and animal suffering. plus a wish fulfillment ending that felt tailor-made for an eventual movie adaptation. it all felt so cheap and small. characterization is flat; protagonist is uninteresting and his supposedly tragic backstory is rote; prose is proficient and vivid but also somehow monotonous. I expected either a grim psychological study or a stark conflict between flawed humanity and fathomless evil, however this dank and shallow novel is neither. I hoped for at least a wee bit of The Terror's absorbing atmosphere and deep characterization, or a sliver of its transcendence. none of those things were to be found. the book was written by an adult but has a very juvenile desire to disgust and appall. I think it is easy to show how dark things can be but I need to feel like the author is trying to say more than "things can get really fucking dark." and if you can't reach for meaning, at least try to entertain rather than punish me. overall this was highly unpleasant to read and ended up feeling like a real waste of time.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Katie

    The North Water takes us into a coarse masculine world where all the better qualities of humanity are hard to find. Sumner, a disgraced surgeon, is constrained to find employment on a whaling ship at a time when the need for whale oil is declining. There’s immediately something suspicious about the real task the owner of The Volunteer has set its captain. The crew of the ship are a motley rabble of ruthless and desperate men. Sumner, the surgeon, is an innocent by comparison. He’s addicted to la The North Water takes us into a coarse masculine world where all the better qualities of humanity are hard to find. Sumner, a disgraced surgeon, is constrained to find employment on a whaling ship at a time when the need for whale oil is declining. There’s immediately something suspicious about the real task the owner of The Volunteer has set its captain. The crew of the ship are a motley rabble of ruthless and desperate men. Sumner, the surgeon, is an innocent by comparison. He’s addicted to laudanum and reads Homer. His nemesis is a man called Henry Drax who in the first chapter is shown beating unconscious and raping a young boy. More about him later. Early on, there’s a recurring motif – if a child or an innocent creature appears you know it’s going to meet a nasty end. I found he used this tactic one time too many and it became overly predictable. The first chapter especially began to seem heavy handed, a rather cheap ploy to create tension. There’s later a scene where baby seals are clubbed to death which, though hard to read, did effectively show how brutalised these men had become and set the atmosphere in which these men lived. They live in a world where blood, pus, excrement, bile are the visuals of everyday. Civilisation’s pretty facades have all been worn thin to reveal the stinking liquid fundament of life. Once the voyage is underway the descriptive writing is brilliant, especially of the merciless arctic landscapes. Pretty soon it acquires the fast-paced momentum of a thriller. The weakest link of the novel for me was Henry Drax, the epitome of pure evil who never quite convinced me as anything but a convenient and rather unsophisticated plot device. The arctic setting, so brilliantly evoked, provided the novel’s moral vacuum much better than Drax did. This is a world where life is cheap and motive rudimentary. The duplicitous plan of the owner provided the tension. Drax, on the other hand, was close to cartoon baddie. He belongs in a novel by a lesser writer. But I’m still giving it five stars for how vividly it dramatized its landscapes and how excitingly it swept along.

  8. 4 out of 5

    LeAnne

    Quick. Name the baddest bad guy you've ever read. Bill Sikes from Oliver Twist? Javer from Les Miserables? Hannibal Lecter? Serena Pemberton? Cathy Ames? Cormac McCarthy's Judge Holden or Anton Chigurh? Ladies and gentlemen, allow me to introduce a new boy to the club of horror. "... and something else, something wholly different, has appeared instead. This courtyard has become a place of vile magic, of blood-soaked transmutations, and Henry Drax is its wild, unholy engineer." While blurbs will te Quick. Name the baddest bad guy you've ever read. Bill Sikes from Oliver Twist? Javer from Les Miserables? Hannibal Lecter? Serena Pemberton? Cathy Ames? Cormac McCarthy's Judge Holden or Anton Chigurh? Ladies and gentlemen, allow me to introduce a new boy to the club of horror. "... and something else, something wholly different, has appeared instead. This courtyard has become a place of vile magic, of blood-soaked transmutations, and Henry Drax is its wild, unholy engineer." While blurbs will tell you this is a story that takes place aboard a whaling ship in the late 1800s, nothing can quite prepare us for the key words in the above quotation: vile, blood-soaked, unholy, Drax. Let me reiterate the term blood-soaked. Yes, as a reader, it's going to cost you. Just the tail end of the first little chapter will have you wincing and percolating anger toward Henry Drax. The next five chapters introduce abundant blood from seals, bears, sailors, and of course whales. While we are calibrating the Offense Meter, you need to know that while I've read lots of novels where F bombs were dropped like they were D-Day ordnance or something, I've never heard the C-word used so frequently. I eventually became entirely immune to it and feared I'd see some idiot driver on the road in front of me and mutter *[email protected]#t* in front of my kids or something. o_O Having skimmed this review, probably a good 80% of you now have no desire to take a look at this Man Booker nominee. But let me share with the other 20% how excellent it is! This is at heart a story about good and evil, adventure, dire conditions, and fortitude. While the description of field-dressing seals isn't going to give us practical life skills, the barbarity of these actions puts us firmly on the ice pack freezing our butts off. The author grabs us by our white collars and off our cozy sofas and directly into the late 1800s and the frigid north water. The suspense and cold and isolation are as much characters in the tale as anyone else, and it is no surprise to learn that the author is a professor of literary realism. Now, all the fabulous professional reviews out there are pointing out the parallels with Moby Dick (hello, Captain Obvious), but here is a fantastic little Easter Egg most missed and that ties to author McGuire's taste in reading. His sociopath in this story, Henry Drax, has sailed to the Marquesas in the past we are told. We further learn Drax was aboard the ship called Dolly, and his fellow harpooners tease him by faux-accusing him of cannibalism (not that he would be above cannibalism). While Herman Melville is most widely known for Moby Dick, his earlier book Typee: A Peep at Polynesian Life has a character who sails aboard the fictional craft Dolly and ends up living amongst cannibals. What an homage! This little tidbit and other sprinkles of dark humor were merely the tip of the iceberg in my enjoyment. We also find some calm mysticism on shipboard, comparisons between Eskimeaux gods and doctors, disbelief in environmental fragility, and the evil nature of profiteers. There are themes examined in here that fit the 1800s perfectly but are echoed today as well. Patrick Sumner, a surgeon wounded in the Siege of Delhi, is the quiet hero of the story, an imperfect man who cannot forgive himself for his failings. His boyhood experiences give him a soft spot for children, and while he tries to help those in peril, fate steps in to take control. When he eventually discovers what a monster Henry Drax is, he cannot get away from him. Trapped on a whaling ship in the middle of nowhere, packed in by polar ice, escape will have to come in a different form. Justice is even more unlikely. While the first 50 or 60 pages (five or six chapters) were bloody hell to get through, from that point forward, I could not put this story down. I usually like my villains to show a touch of humanity here or there to make them more real, but instead Drax's failings were able to conjure believability for me by the story's conclusion. As for the ultimate close to the book, it felt a bit abrupt for my liking. So much so that while this was a solid five star read, the last half chapter fell short of the meteoric reading experience that led up to it. Overall, 4.5 icy stars for the Irish surgeon Sumner who kept me there with him to the top of the world and back.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Andrew Smith

    I’ve read plenty of crime fiction in my time, some of it graphically violent. And I’ve come across some bad men too, violent sociopaths who have occasionally haunted me long after the final page has been turned. But I’ve never before come across a book so brutal, so unmercifully unsettling and savage as this one. From practically the first page it slapped me across the face, dragged me across the room and slammed me against the wall. I loved it! It’s 1850’s England and we are first introduced to I’ve read plenty of crime fiction in my time, some of it graphically violent. And I’ve come across some bad men too, violent sociopaths who have occasionally haunted me long after the final page has been turned. But I’ve never before come across a book so brutal, so unmercifully unsettling and savage as this one. From practically the first page it slapped me across the face, dragged me across the room and slammed me against the wall. I loved it! It’s 1850’s England and we are first introduced to harpooner Henry Drax who is about to board a whaling ship, the Volunteer, on its journey to the Artic. But before he walks up the gangplank he has time to brutally kill a man he’s only briefly encountered in a bar and then heartlessly beat a young boy unconscious before raping him. Yes, Drax is a man you’ll do well to avoid. Then we meet up with former army surgeon Patrick Sumner who will be acting as the ship’s medical man. At first we learn little of Patrick’s past but we do glean that he’s got a penchant for opiates. We will be fed more of his story, in flashbacks, as the novel progresses. These two are at the heart of this tale. But there are some interesting secondary players too, and then there’s life aboard the Volunteer itself – the appalling conditions and the primitive, almost feral nature of the crew. As if this isn’t enough atmosphere in itself, McGuire also throws in the wildly inhospitable nature of the Artic weather. All of this is put together brilliantly by the the author. The language is rough – very rough – but seemed, to me at least, to be a convincing interpretation of 19th Century life amongst this group of ruffians. The Volunteer was embarking on it’s voyage at a time when whale fishing was in a declining state, with paraffin and coal oil beginning to replace whale oil. As the voyage progresses we learn that there’s a sub-plot orchestrated by the owner of the ship, with the ship’s captain as willing accomplice, to scupper the vessel in order to claim the insurance money. How will this play out and what is to become of Drax and Sumner? I was drawn so deeply into this story I felt like I held my breath throughout its entirety. It’s a masterful piece of work. Certainly not for anyone without the stomach for some blood and gore, but if this is no impediment and you’re up for an authentic adventure story that’ll get your blood flowing then look no further.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Robin

    Ungodly stenches, thick bloody discharges, sluicey shits dropped from the sides of boats, ursine gore, carnage of baby seals, rape, more than you could ever imagine knowing about blubber, murder. Just a few of the things you can expect to read about in this no-holds-barred Victorian adventure on a whaling ship. Sounds good, right? It is. Really, really good. Long-listed for the 2016 Booker Prize, I feel the same delight in its nomination that I did for His Bloody Project: Documents Relating to the Ungodly stenches, thick bloody discharges, sluicey shits dropped from the sides of boats, ursine gore, carnage of baby seals, rape, more than you could ever imagine knowing about blubber, murder. Just a few of the things you can expect to read about in this no-holds-barred Victorian adventure on a whaling ship. Sounds good, right? It is. Really, really good. Long-listed for the 2016 Booker Prize, I feel the same delight in its nomination that I did for His Bloody Project: Documents Relating to the Case of Roderick Macrae, because both these books are a bit different from the usual earnest, literary Booker fare. You know me, I lap up said earnestness like a cube of delicious, freshly harvested whale blubber, but it's nice sometimes to see something different. This book is a fast paced adventure, complete with one of the most morally bankrupt bad guys I've read of late, pitted against a strangely relatable opium junkie. While the story propels you forward relentlessly against the dangerous icy waters of the Arctic Circle, the superb writing satisfies the appetite for quality of prose, tension, character development, and descriptions of the fetid underbelly found on and off the whaling ship. It has a level of depth achieved through prophetic dreams, spiritual characters, and the ever present threat of death. But, at the end of the day, it's all about the story. Man fights man as much as man fights the elements in this book. These men are tough, and McGuire depicts with vividness the vile, brutish conditions they endured, to make a living. What a ride! Not for the faint of heart.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Ɗẳɳ 2.☊

    Now this, this is the adventure I’ve been looking for! I couldn’t help but notice several reviewers comparing this to a Jack London tale, and it’s hard for me not to follow suit. As a kid, I was a big fan of Mr. London. I especially loved his Alaskan adventures, which opened my eyes to a place so remote and far removed from my everyday life experiences that it made my head spin. I longed to set a course into that uncharted wilderness. Those books filled me with a wanderlust which still consumes Now this, this is the adventure I’ve been looking for! I couldn’t help but notice several reviewers comparing this to a Jack London tale, and it’s hard for me not to follow suit. As a kid, I was a big fan of Mr. London. I especially loved his Alaskan adventures, which opened my eyes to a place so remote and far removed from my everyday life experiences that it made my head spin. I longed to set a course into that uncharted wilderness. Those books filled me with a wanderlust which still consumes me today. Someday I may hit the road and never look back. This book, however, isn’t one for the kiddies. This is a would-be Jack London at full tilt. This is a no holds barred, savage tale of man vs. nature, man vs. beast, and ultimately man vs. man. Our story is set in the nineteenth century, at the tail end of whaling’s heyday. “We killed them all . . . It was tremendous while it lasted, and magnificently profitable too. We had twenty-five fucking good years. But the world turns, and . . . Besides, no one even wants the whale oil anymore—it’s all petroleum now, all coal gas, you know that.” We follow a disgraced army surgeon court-martialed and on the lam. He's on the lookout for a way out of the country, so it’s no surprise that he’d jump at a position on a whaling vessel helmed by an infamous captain with a sketchy past. Plus, he figures it’ll be kind of holiday. His employer implied as much anyway. “Implied that the surgeon’s job on a whaler was a legal nicety, a requirement to be met, but in practice there was bugger all to do . . . God knows that is what he needs after the madness of India: the filthy heat, the barbarity, the stench. Whatever the Greenland whaling is like, he thinks, it will surely not be anything like that.” <--Famous last words. Little does he realize that the captain has a hidden agenda, or that one of the crew members is an unrepentant psychopath, with a complete lack of conscience. Sorry buddy, but I don’t think you’re in for a relaxing holiday! Look, I know that subject of whaling may be entirely off-putting to a lot of you out there, so let me assure you that there’s much more to the story than that. Truthfully, whaling plays only a minor role. I would say the same for those gruesome animal encounters. I won’t lie to you and suggest that they’re not horrific, because a few of them are. But, I will say that I didn’t feel like McGuire embellished those scenes simply to up the gore factor. They seem completely accurate to the era in which this story occurs. The period accurate language and attention to fine detail gave the novel a real sense of time and place. The author clearly put in the research, and it shows. This story, for me, helped to alleviate some of that bitter disappointed I experience last Christmas, while watching both DiCaprio’s and Tarantino’s failed attempt at portraying an epic winter adventure. This razor-sharp narrative easily flenses both of those bloated carcasses. Those of you who know me, know that I’m fairly stingy with my five star ratings. In fact, of the forty some odd books that I've read this year (and believe you me I've read some doozies), I can count on one hand the number of five star ratings I’ve issued. So I think it’s safe to say that this one, in my opinion, was pert-near perfect. A daring adventure of alpha males (sorry, but there’s nary a woman in sight) struggling against Mother Nature and each other, with a villain so evil that he’s sure to resonate in the reader's mind long after setting this one aside. A tale which, at times, could be oh so brutal, yet strikingly beautiful, or, as my friend Shayne would say, it was, in a word, “BRUTIFUL™.”

  12. 5 out of 5

    Matt

    “Otto crouches in the bows with the harpoon’s wooden shaft gripped tightly in his fists. With a giant horselike snort…the whale exhales a V-shaped flume of grayish vapor. The boat and crew are temporarily obscured, but when they reappear, Otto is on his feet and the harpoon is poised above his head – the barb pointing downwards and the shaft forming a black hypotenuse against the sullen sky. The whale’s back looks…like a sunken island, a grainy volcanic hump of rock peeping from the waves. Otto “Otto crouches in the bows with the harpoon’s wooden shaft gripped tightly in his fists. With a giant horselike snort…the whale exhales a V-shaped flume of grayish vapor. The boat and crew are temporarily obscured, but when they reappear, Otto is on his feet and the harpoon is poised above his head – the barb pointing downwards and the shaft forming a black hypotenuse against the sullen sky. The whale’s back looks…like a sunken island, a grainy volcanic hump of rock peeping from the waves. Otto hurls the iron with all his strength, it sinks in deep, up to the foreganger, and the whale instantly convulses. Its body bends and spasms; the eight-foot flukes of its enormous tail break from the water, then crash back down. Otto’s boat is tossed wildly about and the oarsmen are thrown from their seats…Two more harpoons sink deep into the whale’s black flank, and then they begin with the lances…The four harpooners pierce and probe. The whale, still hopelessly resisting, blows out a plume of hot vapor mixed with blood and mucus. All around it, the smashed and bloodstained waters boil and foam…” - Ian McGuire, The North Water Genealogy is all the rage right now, isn’t it? Family trees and DNA and Ancestry.com. Everyone wants to know where they come from. It helps, I suppose, to define who they are. In that spirit, I decided to investigate the genesis of Ian McGuire’s familiar-seeming The North Water. After long thought (at least three minutes, while I was waiting beneath an overpass for my train), this is what I came up with: Imagine that Melville’s Moby Dick married London’s The Sea-Wolf, and they had a child together. Then imagine that child was orphaned, and raised by James Dickey. Every once in awhile, Dickey would allow an abusive uncle named Cormac McCarthy to watch the child. Meanwhile, the ghost of the Greek poet Homer floats above. That’s how we get here. That child’s name is The North Water. This is a short, brutal novel about men on a whaling ship. How brutal, you ask? Well, within the first nine pages, one of the major characters kills a man, kills a child, and then rapes the dead child. So, if that gives you pause, you will probably want to leave this one alone. For those that push forward, it only gets bleaker. McGuire’s novel, as I heavily intimated in the lede, uses a hoary framework to explore the base and primitive nature of man. It pits two opposites against each other. The first is Henry Drax, a brutish psychopath whose bloody introduction constitutes the beginning of The North Water. The second is the Irish surgeon Patrick Sumner, a refugee from the Sepoy Mutiny with a troubled pass that nevertheless fails to obscure his fundamental humanism. Drax and Sumner end up on the Volunteer, which is heading for the Arctic circa 1859 for a last hurrah killing whales. In the dark, foul-smelling confines of the ship, a coarse morality play unfolds. That’s really all I’ll say, plot-wise. The end-result, in my opinion, is not entirely surprising, and the narrative arcs felt foreordained, but there are some decent twists and turns along the way. The North Water came on scene in 2016 riding the crest of a great deal of critical acclaim. In terms of writing, the praise is well deserved. McGuire is a very talented. His descriptions are excellent without being impenetrable. He can turn a phrase, such as when a character “runs his tongue along the haphazard ramparts of his teeth,” or a description of the Arctic, where “enormous blue-white icebergs loom like broken and carious monuments.” His landscapes can be breathtaking, painterly: “The black sky is dense with stars and upon its speckled blank, the borealis unfurls, bends back, reopens again like a vast and multi-colored murmuration.” There is a real tactility to the prose, putting you inside the story, whether it is a dimly lit grog-shop, the ranking berths of a whaling ship, or on the vast, wind-whipped ice-fields of the far north. The only downside to these marvelous evocations is that McGuire only takes you to terrible places, peopled by consistently nasty characters. The bookshelves of the world are filled with novels that make a study out of hyper-masculinity. (Aside from prostitutes, there are few women in sight). And that’s really what this is: a book about what it means to be a man. On that level, The North Water only treads water. Drax is such a villainous creation that it’s hard to take him seriously. There is no balance to the competing worldviews of Drax and Sumner, because one man is a monster and the other is not (it’s interesting to compare this to the richer philosophical tête-à-tête between Hump van Weyden and Wolf Larsen in The Sea Wolf). Moreover, McGuire’s sermonizing is a bit too on the nose. In general, the dialogue is terse, crude, often quite funny; but when the fellows start gushing about their spiritual leanings and worldviews, all subtlety is lost. The North Water could have been a pulpy period thriller up-jumped by a unique setting. Or it could have been a knottier disquisition on how many layers of humanity must be shed before one can find the soul. Instead of choosing, though, McGuire decides to mix these components together. (Or, in true The North Water fashion, you might say these components were clubbed like a baby seal, and ground into powder, before being stirred into grog that’s been in a rotting barrel for a year). So you get something that feels like literary fiction, evolved from a salon, jutting up against the macabre and sadistic, evolved from the gutter. The result is pretty satisfying. Certainly, in terms of quality, it is better than average. Still, with material this grim (remember those first nine pages I told you about) and characters this hateful, it is real hard to love.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Agnieszka

    A very good reading. Gripping and engrossing even if at most times truly gruesome. I know some readers were whining on mega-literality in characterising people and their deeds, couldn't stomach scatological descriptions and direly vulgar language, well, the proverb to swear as a sailor didn’t come out of nowhere, I suppose, found some protagonists exaggerated, cartoonish and grotesque even and filthiness and all this mindless brutality just put them off. I can see their point. Really. But it doe A very good reading. Gripping and engrossing even if at most times truly gruesome. I know some readers were whining on mega-literality in characterising people and their deeds, couldn't stomach scatological descriptions and direly vulgar language, well, the proverb to swear as a sailor didn’t come out of nowhere, I suppose, found some protagonists exaggerated, cartoonish and grotesque even and filthiness and all this mindless brutality just put them off. I can see their point. Really. But it doesn’t change the fact I found The North Water well written and well paced story. Yes, there are some expressively rendered protagonists, there is a foul language and whole obscenity imaginable, there is blood, guts and body fluids, there are scents and views that could upset your stomach, there is a ship though its true mission in the course of events is to show rather opposite than most of participants of the voyage were in the first place informed of, there is a whalehunting, and bears, there are rapes and murders and violence, there is cold and ice, and darkness. And even more darkness. Yes, The North Water has it all, but if the novel dealt with evil and brutalization and barbarism such an approach and language was in my eyes justified. You may of course disagree with me. Some words about main protagonists. Harpooner Drax is a nasty piece of work indeed, amoral, despicable and so depraved that it feels almost unreal, it’s barely a spoiler, we meet the guy and get to know his face just on first pages. He seems to embody some primary force and instinct, he’s pure evil but his cruelty doesn’t spring from thoughtlessness, he definitely is a cunning and manipulative miscreant. For his opponent is designated doctor Patrick Sumner, a bit shadowy figure, who emerged out of nowhere, from India to tell the truth, and who likes to spend his leisure time in laudanum-induced daze. What is he running from ? What does he want to forget about? Against sinister personality and strength of Drax our Doc seems to compare not that commandingly. Sometimes I thought the first one was too diabolique to take him seriously while the second one remained too undeveloped character. From other heroes I'd like to mention yet harpooner Otto, a huge man fascinated with Swedenborg's mysticism and through its lens trying to grasp nature of good and evil and things that happened to hapless sailors through their doomed voyage. One of the most recognisable villains in literature ever remains to me judge Holden from McCarthy’s Blood Meridian, or the Evening Redness in the West. I thought this novel was stunning and brilliant and stark and absolutely unforgettable reading experience. I’m not saying McGuire with his reading is in the same league only that the level of bestiality and depravity seems to be quite comparable. It’s a bit like one of McCarthy’s characters enlisted on that whaler. Both authors seem to think of ruthlessness and cruelty to be immanent attribute of human nature, directed not only at fellow human being but discernible in its approach to animals and nature as well. I’m attracted to novels that are set in extremely conditions, that test people’s endurance and fortitude or just the opposite that explore man’s meanness in the hour of trial. I love reading about polar expeditions, mountain climbing or ill-fated voyages. And this novel appeared to perform the conditions pretty successfull even though in the last part it seemed to lose some of it initial panache. But if you prefer to avoid in your readings very graphic scenes of violence and abuse this one may not be very suitable for you. 3,5/5

  14. 4 out of 5

    Jenny (Reading Envy)

    I started this because it was named to the Man Booker Prize longlist in 2016, and I was hearing good things about it from some of my reading friends. Despite not being named to the short list, I decided it was worth finishing. I feel two ways about this novel. On the one hand, there is some very violent stuff in this book. Rape and murder and guiltless violence all around. There are frequent derogatory words directed at other races and women. But on the other hand (and forgive me but there really I started this because it was named to the Man Booker Prize longlist in 2016, and I was hearing good things about it from some of my reading friends. Despite not being named to the short list, I decided it was worth finishing. I feel two ways about this novel. On the one hand, there is some very violent stuff in this book. Rape and murder and guiltless violence all around. There are frequent derogatory words directed at other races and women. But on the other hand (and forgive me but there really is another hand here!) the writing is stellar. Specific, descriptive, captivating writing that pulls you in immediately, into this gritty godless world of mid 19th century whalers and seamen. Compared to the other gritty disturbing unlikeable book that made the shortlist, Eileen, I felt this was stronger on all accounts - the unlikeable characters seem to be a product of their environment, the story has momentum to it, and everything comes to a close. There isn't an idealistic thread in the entire thing, unlike certain books about whaling and seamen written by authors living during that actual time period. Life is hard, people are faulty, and nobody even agrees on the good of humanity. I'm not sure I'd recommend it to every reader. But to be transported to a world of outlaws at sea, this is the place.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Char

    The North Water is a savage, harsh, gory, dark fiction story taking place mainly on a whaling vessel in the 19th century. Ever moving north in search of the dwindling whale population, the realities of life are hard enough for these men, never mind the serial killer/child molester hiding among them. I listened to this on audio and the narrator John Keating was most excellent. I would love to hear more of his work in the future. I enjoyed the hell out of this brutal story, but it's not for ever The North Water is a savage, harsh, gory, dark fiction story taking place mainly on a whaling vessel in the 19th century. Ever moving north in search of the dwindling whale population, the realities of life are hard enough for these men, never mind the serial killer/child molester hiding among them. I listened to this on audio and the narrator John Keating was most excellent. I would love to hear more of his work in the future. I enjoyed the hell out of this brutal story, but it's not for everyone. Be aware that Mr. McGuire takes an unflinching look at the whaling life- and it was very, very unpleasant for nearly every character in the book. If you're okay with that type of thing, then I highly recommend The North Water *I was able to listen to this one on audio thanks to my awesome public library. *

  16. 4 out of 5

    Michael

    A deep, dark, unflinching, and unsparing account of men battling the elements, each other, and, for the most part, themselves. The character of Drax was the most non-cartoonishly evil character I'd encountered in a long time. But of course this only made me wonder: is that even possible? Isn't such a pure distillation of evil necessarily cartoonish? I wondered several times this as I read--whether every awful thing he did was meant merely to shock--but in the end the story carried me along its s A deep, dark, unflinching, and unsparing account of men battling the elements, each other, and, for the most part, themselves. The character of Drax was the most non-cartoonishly evil character I'd encountered in a long time. But of course this only made me wonder: is that even possible? Isn't such a pure distillation of evil necessarily cartoonish? I wondered several times this as I read--whether every awful thing he did was meant merely to shock--but in the end the story carried me along its strong, swift currents that gathered power as I went. This is a brutal world, described brilliantly, but it's not for the faint of heart!

  17. 4 out of 5

    William2

    Darkness, darkness. In the early 1860s a whaling expedition is undertaken from Hull, Yorkshire, at a time when the demand for whale oil has fallen due to a new discovery, fossil oil. The voyage is doomed from the start since the ship must go down in order for the avaricious shipowners to collect the insurance money. The vessel is crewed, among others, by a homicidal maniac incapable of remorse, and a ship's surgeon, just cashiered from the British Army after the Indian Mutiny, who's a laudanum j Darkness, darkness. In the early 1860s a whaling expedition is undertaken from Hull, Yorkshire, at a time when the demand for whale oil has fallen due to a new discovery, fossil oil. The voyage is doomed from the start since the ship must go down in order for the avaricious shipowners to collect the insurance money. The vessel is crewed, among others, by a homicidal maniac incapable of remorse, and a ship's surgeon, just cashiered from the British Army after the Indian Mutiny, who's a laudanum junky. The way in which the killer is caught will set your hair on fire. I'll say no more. Not a tale for the squeamish or faint of heart. Martin Amis once said that the thrillers of Elmore Leonard were re-readable, meaning exquisitely made. The same goes for The North Water. Author Ian McGuire knows his Herman Melville intimately. The North Water reads like a present day revisiting of several books, including Moby-Dick of course, but also White-Jacket, Redburn and The Piazza Tales, which includes "Billy Budd." The base human drives Melville could only fleetingly allude to are here in full view. In that sense, I think the novel is in some ways a pendent to Melville's oeuvre, while still possessing a verve and originality which sets it apart from the master's models. In the second half, in my view, McGuire shifts or rather broadens his influences—for this is an imaginative book wrought from other books—to include Robert Falcon Scott's doomed antarctic voyage as told by Apsley Cherry-Garrard in The Worst Journey in the World. Perhaps some of the misfortunes of Sir Ernest Henry Shackleton are thrown in there, too. Beryl Bainbridge's The Birthday Boys also springs to mind. And the shipowner's long valedictory patter reminds me of the father's speech in the middle of John le Carré's wonderful A Perfect Spy.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Susan

    It is 1857 and a whaling ship is about to leave for the Artic. With Mr Baxter as the wily financier funding the expedition and an assembled crew which includes Captain Brownlee, perceived as ‘unlucky’ by the men, Dr Patrick Sumner, an Irish surgeon with secrets and, oh yes, a vicious murderer called Henry Drax. This is a dark and unsettling novel. The outline of the story may make it seem like a murder mystery, but this is far more literary fiction than a thriller. The writing is violent and unfl It is 1857 and a whaling ship is about to leave for the Artic. With Mr Baxter as the wily financier funding the expedition and an assembled crew which includes Captain Brownlee, perceived as ‘unlucky’ by the men, Dr Patrick Sumner, an Irish surgeon with secrets and, oh yes, a vicious murderer called Henry Drax. This is a dark and unsettling novel. The outline of the story may make it seem like a murder mystery, but this is far more literary fiction than a thriller. The writing is violent and unflinching from the beginning with insurance fraud, sodomy, abuse, survival in a desolate environment and some pretty gruesome scenes within the pages. The characters are what make the book work; with Sumner, the disgraced surgeon, as the most sympathetic. There are flashbacks of his time in the army during the Indian Mutiny and we learn of how he ended up taking part on board a whaling expedition. Henry Drax is a far less complicated character and it is his sheer nastiness that drives the story. His presence looms over the ship and casts a long shadow over a dark book indeed. Brooding, dark and violent, this novel will undoubtedly not appeal to everyone. However, if you are prepared to enter this dark, realistic account of a whaling ship with a killer on board, you will be unable to put it down. A book, and characters, which will stay with me for a long time. Lastly, I received a copy of this book from the publisher, via NetGalley, for review.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Glenn Sumi

    Every year I come across a book or two that I want to press on EVERY reader I know. This, after just a few salty pages, quickly became one of them. Keep in mind: if savage language and limb-tearing action makes you queasy, it might not be for you. Furthermore, try to read this in the winter. I bet your chilly, slushy commute ain’t got nothing on what the characters in this book endure. The North Water is about a doomed expedition heading up to the Arctic Circle. It’s the 1850s, and the whaling in Every year I come across a book or two that I want to press on EVERY reader I know. This, after just a few salty pages, quickly became one of them. Keep in mind: if savage language and limb-tearing action makes you queasy, it might not be for you. Furthermore, try to read this in the winter. I bet your chilly, slushy commute ain’t got nothing on what the characters in this book endure. The North Water is about a doomed expedition heading up to the Arctic Circle. It’s the 1850s, and the whaling industry is dying, whale oil having being replaced in general use by different kinds of fuel. Nevertheless, the ship Volunteer is heading up from England to the icy north. Onboard are a couple dozen men, each with complex histories. These include the captain, Brownlee, whose previous whaling trip ended in financial disaster; harpooner Drax, a sadistic, murdering, amoral brute whom we meet (boy, do we ever meet him) in the first pages; and Sumner, the ship’s educated Irish doctor, who once had a promising career in the army but is now, thanks to an unfortunate incident in India, looking for any kind of work to support his opium addiction. In 250 efficient, evocative pages, Ian McGuire takes us on this unforgettable trip, making us see, smell, taste and hear the perilous journey. He has absolute mastery over the tale; the language feels authentic, the plot moves swiftly, and the characters interact in a way that never feels contrived. It’s an adventure, a murder mystery, a historical snapshot and a cultural eye-opener. The passages involving the Eskimos the seamen meet are fascinating, and there’s a sensitive subplot involving a simple whaler who is ostracized for being homosexual (I suppose the word “gay” wouldn’t apply to him then). If I have one criticism, it’s that the inevitable stand-off between the two main characters, when it comes, happens too quickly. Surely McGuire could have extended it. But how often do we want sections to keep going longer, so we can savour the details? That’s how damn great this book is.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Tom Mathews

    I’m not overly squeamish. In the last couple years I have read Blood Meridian, reputedly Cormac McCarthy’s bloodiest work, and The Ruins, by Scott Smith, another notoriously sanguineous selection. But it wasn’t until I was reading this book that I realized that I needed a bookshelf for books that are ‘not for the fainthearted’. The North Water reads like Jack London on crack. It is an extremely visceral story of the final days of the whaling boom when, in order to hunt the ever dwindling herds o I’m not overly squeamish. In the last couple years I have read Blood Meridian, reputedly Cormac McCarthy’s bloodiest work, and The Ruins, by Scott Smith, another notoriously sanguineous selection. But it wasn’t until I was reading this book that I realized that I needed a bookshelf for books that are ‘not for the fainthearted’. The North Water reads like Jack London on crack. It is an extremely visceral story of the final days of the whaling boom when, in order to hunt the ever dwindling herds of whales, ships would sail ever farther north, in seas with more ice than water. A single error in judgement could leave a ship stranded in the ice for months, or even years. In this setting we meet Henry Drax, a harpooner as harsh and violent as the name he bears, and Patrick Sumner, a former British Army surgeon whose avarice cost him his commission and any hopes of a respectable medical career. Ian McGuire’s debut novel skillfully pits these two men against each other in a bleak and bitter landscape where there is truly no escape from the evil they encounter. He is an author who bears watching. ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ stars FYI: On a 5-point scale I assign stars based on my assessment of what the book needs in the way of improvements: *5 Stars – Nothing at all. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. *4 Stars – It could stand for a few tweaks here and there but it’s pretty good as it is. *3 Stars – A solid C grade. Some serious rewriting would be needed in order for this book to be considered great or memorable. *2 Stars – This book needs a lot of work. A good start would be to change the plot, the character development, the writing style and the ending. *1 Star - The only thing that would improve this book is a good bonfire.

  21. 4 out of 5

    PirateSteve

    ""I'd venture the Good Lord don't spend much time up here in the North Water," he says with a smile. "It's most probable he don't like the chill""

  22. 5 out of 5

    Beverly

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. My kind of adventure, man against man, under brutal conditions, The North Water had me in its teeth from beginning to end. The psychopath and pedophile Drax against the civilized and down -on-his-luck surgeon Summer are shipping out on a whaler to the Arctic. Each are on the ill-fated ship for similar reasons--it's the last resort for both. To get away from society is their desire, but their likeness ends there, for Drax is a bloodthirsty killer and Sumner only wants to earn cash in his chosen p My kind of adventure, man against man, under brutal conditions, The North Water had me in its teeth from beginning to end. The psychopath and pedophile Drax against the civilized and down -on-his-luck surgeon Summer are shipping out on a whaler to the Arctic. Each are on the ill-fated ship for similar reasons--it's the last resort for both. To get away from society is their desire, but their likeness ends there, for Drax is a bloodthirsty killer and Sumner only wants to earn cash in his chosen profession, as his military career is no longer an option. It seems as if their meeting is fated to be and only one will live through it.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Julie

    Other than the fact that someone seems to have had some potty-training issues as a toddler, this book was pretty good. I'm employing only the mildest irony. I say that because this book is filled with the stench of mid-19th century aromas from the privy, for the most part. McGuire really likes to indulge in the smells of a more malodorous age, packing the book with instances, on just about every page, with some mention of smells of urine and faeces and beer-laden farts. It's really a teen boy's Other than the fact that someone seems to have had some potty-training issues as a toddler, this book was pretty good. I'm employing only the mildest irony. I say that because this book is filled with the stench of mid-19th century aromas from the privy, for the most part. McGuire really likes to indulge in the smells of a more malodorous age, packing the book with instances, on just about every page, with some mention of smells of urine and faeces and beer-laden farts. It's really a teen boy's locker room of sour and stinking descriptions and it does get very old very fast. Yes, we do all understand it was a "dirtier" age, and particularly so on long sea voyages, but the moments of explosive diarrhea far outnumber the whales and seals -- and so it's little wonder that it was an ill-fated voyage. The novel seems quite derivative -- bringing to mind Herman Melville and Jack London: ill-fated whaling ships, doomed to sink; and nasty characters who know nothing other than to be nasty. In both instances, McGuire doesn't quite reach the master story tellers' skills: Moby Dick is a much better tale and Wolf Larsen makes Henry Drax look like a knitting granny in a rocking chair. While some reviewers claim to have never seen such a monstrous villain as Drax, I raise an improbable eyebrow. Really? He's just a garden variety sociopath with not much to him -- absolutely no complexity or abstruseness: he's just a big bully. There is nothing surprising about his actions or motivations. (Much more complex and evil characters have been delivered on the television series Dexter ... or even Law and Order: SVU or Law & Order: Criminal Intent. ) It's really a mish-mash of plots and characters from various novels; herein we even find Arthur Conan Doyle's The Sign of The Four slightly tarted up, but very recognizable. To steal one of McGuire's own expressions: it's truly a gallimaufry of a novel! And therein lies the rub, as the saying goes ... For all of the other ailments this book possesses, it is lifted up to be a sum greater than all its putrefying parts because McGuire writes beautifully. This man knows words, and how to use them! Anyone who can use gallimaufry in a sentence in a "stinking" adventure novel about the sea without making it sound priggish or pretentious has really got my attention. The first few chapters, I have to admit, had me chortling over the cartoonish characters. These worthy whaling men stopped just short of grinding out such phrases as "Aaaarrrr, is that you, matey? Ahoy and Blimey, but I'll send ya to Davey Jones' locker yet, my pretty..." But, having got that out of his system, McGuire really changes the game and sets out to scourge the seven seas with the strength of his prose. If he could only work a plot that is worthy of his tremendous word skills, he would be a force to contend with in the writers' universe. The strength and polish of his exquisite writing style kept me reading to the end, even though I didn't much enjoy the tale. This was on the long list for 2016 Booker Prize and while it probably shouldn't have been there in the first place, it is a far, far better read than both Eileen and Hot Milk, which ended up on the short list. Go figure!

  24. 4 out of 5

    Peter Boyle

    If you like your historical fiction bleak, bloody and barbarous, then Ian McGuire's Booker long-listed The North Water is the one for you. Think Moby Dick by way of Quentin Tarantino and you're not far off. It tells the story of a doomed whaling voyage in the 1850s. The Volunteer sets sail from Hull with the motliest of crews, made up of brutes and savages and skippered by the dubious Captain Brownlee. In the first few pages we meet Henry Drax, a vicious harpooner with a thirst for murder. He cas If you like your historical fiction bleak, bloody and barbarous, then Ian McGuire's Booker long-listed The North Water is the one for you. Think Moby Dick by way of Quentin Tarantino and you're not far off. It tells the story of a doomed whaling voyage in the 1850s. The Volunteer sets sail from Hull with the motliest of crews, made up of brutes and savages and skippered by the dubious Captain Brownlee. In the first few pages we meet Henry Drax, a vicious harpooner with a thirst for murder. He casually slaughters a drinking partner and rapes a young boy in the harbour before even setting foot on the ship. "The law is just a name they give to what a certain kind of men prefer," Drax declares. Clearly not an upstanding member of society. We follow the action mostly through the eyes of Patrick Sumner, an Irish surgeon who is both mentally and physically burdened from serving in the siege of Delhi. He seems to be one of the few morally sound people on board, even if he has a few skeletons in his own closet. But will he survive the unforgiving Arctic conditions and this dangerous, unscrupulous crew? The graphic violence in this absorbing, fast-paced novel has drawn comparisons to the more gruesome aspects of Cormac McCarthy's work. I wouldn't consider myself squeamish in the least but I must admit to wincing at some of the more grisly passages: Cavendish, without raising the rifle from his hip, tilts the barrel upwards and shoots him through the throat. The top portion of the Shetlander's skull detaches and flies backwards against the steeply pitched canvas roof, leaving a broad red bulls-eye and, around it, a fainter aureole of purplish brain matter. I quite enjoyed The North Water for the most part. It is a gripping tale of survival and a convincing vision of legendary nautical adventures, populated with a cast of memorable characters. McGuire's sharp dialogue and stylish prose help to create an unnerving atmosphere of peril and suspense on the high seas. However the violence eventually loses its power to shock because of its frequency. And while it is an entertaining story, there is nothing particularly *new* here - I don't really understand why it is deemed Booker worthy. I would describe The North Water as a very well-written thriller rather than literary fiction. It's an enthralling, vivid and unsettling novel.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Laura

    5 stars....highly recommend. It is graphic, but it is entertaining. Adventure, murder, damning evidence (unique twist), deceit, character study, and medical procedures....this book has it all. If you are looking for very well written book with lots of action, take a peek at this novel. Recommended by GR friend Doug. 4.5 stars (reread Jan 2018 for A-team book club)

  26. 4 out of 5

    Roger Brunyate

    A Pungent Horror Behold the man. He snuffles out of Clappison's courtyard onto Sykes Street and snuffs the complex air—turpentine, fishmeal, mustard, black lead, the usual grave, morning-piss stink of just-emptied night jars. He snorts once, rubs his bristled head, and readjusts his crotch. He sniffs his fingers, then slowly sucks each one in turn, drawing off the last remnants, getting his final money's worth. At the end of Charterhouse Lane he turns north onto Wincolmlee, past the De La Pole Ta A Pungent Horror Behold the man. He snuffles out of Clappison's courtyard onto Sykes Street and snuffs the complex air—turpentine, fishmeal, mustard, black lead, the usual grave, morning-piss stink of just-emptied night jars. He snorts once, rubs his bristled head, and readjusts his crotch. He sniffs his fingers, then slowly sucks each one in turn, drawing off the last remnants, getting his final money's worth. At the end of Charterhouse Lane he turns north onto Wincolmlee, past the De La Pole Tavern, past the sperm candle manufactory and oil-seed mill. Above the warehouse roofs, he can see the swaying tops of main- and mizzenmasts, hear the shouts of the stevedores and the thump of mallets from the cooperage nearby. These are the opening sentences of Ian McGuire's second novel, short-listed for the 2016 Man Booker Prize. It is easy to see why Hilary Mantel praises it so highly on the cover: this description of a seaport in the mid-nineteenth century is reminiscent of the Thamesside squalor at the beginning of her own Wolf Hall, and both owe much to Dickens. Note how many of the senses McGuire brings into play even in this short excerpt: smell, feel, taste, locomotion, sight, and sound. But note too his pungent world: the man just emerged from a whorehouse, the morning-piss stink. If anything disturbs you about the intensity of writing like this, better not read on. For in this story of a doomed whaling voyage up to the mouth of the Northwest Passage and beyond, Ian McGuire leaves nothing out—no possible evocation of blood, gore, and excrement, no description of man's cruelty to animals and his fellow men, no depth of degradation. It is great writing, I see that, but really tough going. And this opening gives only the faintest hint of what is to come. I will include a more typically intense excerpt later, but will hide it as a spoiler. In essence, this is a nineteenth-century story told with a modern sensibility, a Moby-Dick of a sort, written in language that Melville's sailors must surely have used, but would never have found its way onto his pages. The man who emerges from the brothel as the book opens is a harpooner, Henry Drax. Before shipping out on the Volunteer the next morning, he has a few more urges to satisfy, and drink and violence are not the last of them. The next chapter will give us a very different figure, the protagonist Patrick Sumner, an Irish surgeon, battered by his own bloody experiences in the Indian Mutiny, and with secrets that he covers with lies. The Volunteer's captain, Brownlee, is glad to have a gentleman aboard and asks no questions; nor does he question too much the crew they pick up at the Shetland Islands as the vessel sails north. For whaling—and sealing, even worse—is no task for the faint of heart, and we soon get hints that the ostensible object of the trip is not the real one. Once you get used to the language and have learned to stomach the horror, the story grips you like a terrier and shakes you every which way round. First, we have the scenes of hunting itself: shooting and clubbing the seals, an encounter with polar bears, the almost orgiastic killing of the whale and dismembering of its stinking corpse. Then it becomes clear that there may be a killer on board the ship itself. But then a different kind of disaster strikes, and the novel becomes a story of arctic survival under appalling conditions; it is clear that this is a voyage from which few will emerge unscarred, or even alive. It is exciting and brutal. But the worse things get, the more McGuire turns to higher things, such as human decency, religious faith, and the nature of good and evil. Sumner calls himself an atheist: he mocks his shipmate Otto who quotes the philosophy of Swedenborg; he accepts the hospitality of a Catholic priest in his lonely mission, but not his faith; he submits to being treated as a spirit by the Esquimaux themselves. All the same, he is not entirely unaffected—a fact I welcomed as it gives dimension to a tale that, however exciting, was tending to stay too close to the ground. But even as the author is becoming the philosopher, his appetite for physical disgust increases also. This is a terrific book if you can take it, but it is only fair to warn you with a sample. The passage below describes an emergency operation by Sumner to lance an abdominal abscess filled with pus. If you think you can handle it, read on; it is no better and no worse than the many other such descriptions; the spoiler is for intensity only, not plot. If you would rather not, then better leave the novel alone also; though exciting in its mounting horror, it most certainly is pungent! (view spoiler)[As soon as he pierces the cavity wall, a pint or more of foul and flocculent pus, turbid and pinkish gray, squirts unhindered our of the newly-made breach, spattering across the table and coating Sumner's hands and forearms. The roaring stench of excrement and decay instantly fills the cabin. Anna yelps out in horror and her brother drops the metal bucket. Sumner gasps and jolts backwards. The discharge is fibrinous, bloody, and thick as Cornish cream; it pulses out from the narrow opening like the last twitching apogee of a monstrous ejaculation. (hide spoiler)]

  27. 4 out of 5

    Skorofido Skorofido

    Μετά από τις γυναικείες ανησυχίες, είπα να πάω σε κάτι πιο μπρουτάλ, πιο ματσό, πιο αντρουά βρε παιδί μου. ‘Σκοτεινός αρκτικός’ λοιπόν, υποψήφιο για Booker 2016, κάτι θα είδαν οι ειδικοί… Η υπόθεση είναι κάπου στο 1860 (αφού ένας εκ των δύο ηρώων – τέλος πάντων δεν τους λες και ήρωες στο καθήκον – συμμετείχε στην πολιορκία του Δελχί το 1857), σ’ένα φαλαινοθηρικό σκάφος που πλέει στον παγωμένο Aρκτικό ωκεανό για να πιάσει τι άλλο; φάλαινες. Τώρα μην περιμένετε να συναντήσετε και τίποτα καλόπαιδα, σ Μετά από τις γυναικείες ανησυχίες, είπα να πάω σε κάτι πιο μπρουτάλ, πιο ματσό, πιο αντρουά βρε παιδί μου. ‘Σκοτεινός αρκτικός’ λοιπόν, υποψήφιο για Booker 2016, κάτι θα είδαν οι ειδικοί… Η υπόθεση είναι κάπου στο 1860 (αφού ένας εκ των δύο ηρώων – τέλος πάντων δεν τους λες και ήρωες στο καθήκον – συμμετείχε στην πολιορκία του Δελχί το 1857), σ’ένα φαλαινοθηρικό σκάφος που πλέει στον παγωμένο Aρκτικό ωκεανό για να πιάσει τι άλλο; φάλαινες. Τώρα μην περιμένετε να συναντήσετε και τίποτα καλόπαιδα, σ’ένα τέτοιο ταξίδι. Οι δυο βασικοί ήρωες είναι ο Χένρι Ντραξ, μέλος του πληρώματος, δυσώδης, μέθυσος και βάναυσος και ο γιατρός του πλοίου Πάτρικ Σάμνερ. Ένα φονικό πάνω στο πλοίο, θα ταράξει τις ισορροπίες (έαν υπήρξαν αυτές ποτέ) και οι δύο άντρες θα έρθουν αντιμέτωποι. Λοιπόν, το βιβλίο είναι μπρουτάλ. Πολύ μπρουτάλ. Βίαιο, ωμό, αηδιαστικό. Κοινώς βιβλίο όχι για παρθενοπιπίτσες. Έχει πολύ σκληρές σκηνές… φόνους, σοδομισμούς, παιδεραστίες, άγρια κυνήγια φαλαινών και αρκούδων… και κρύο… πολύ κρύο… και μοναξιά… πολύ μοναξιά… ‘Ο θάνατος σου η ζωή μου’; Ε! αυτό το πράγμα είναι μέσα σ’αυτό το βιβλίο. Σχεδόν κανένας ήρωας δεν έχει κάτι ανθρώπινο μέσα του. Για τον δε Ντραξ, δεν το συζητώ. Είναι μακράν από τους πιο απεχθείς λογοτεχνικούς ήρωες που έχω διαβάσει στη ζωή μου. Τέτοιο ανθρώπινο τέρας δεν έχω ξαναματασυναντήσει χωρίς έστω μια υποτυπώδη δικαιολογία για όσα πράττει… Μικρή αχτίνα φωτός ο Οτο και άντε λίγο ο ιερέας… Γραμμένο το μυθιστόρημα σε χρόνο ενεστώτα, προφανώς για να νιώσσει ο αναγνώστης πως είναι μέρος της δράσης, οκ, καταντάει από ένα σημείο κουραστικό. Δεν έχω θέμα με τη βία αλλά από ένα σημείο και ύστερα το όλο βιβλίο είναι ‘η βία για τη βία’. Δε νομίζω φυσικά πως υπάρχει κάποιο ηθικό νόημα σε όλο αυτό. Η ωμή γλώσσα του συγγραφέα σαφώς κολλάει μια χαρά σε όλο αυτό το κλίμα όμως από ένα σημείο κι έπειτα η εμμονή του να χρησιμοποιεί όλη τη συγγραφική του δυνατότητα για να μας δείξει τα σκατά σε όλες τους τις εκφάνσεις (πράσινα – καφέ – τσιρλιό κλπ κλπ) ενώ δεν τη χρησιμοποιεί σε άλλα εξίσου αηδιαστικά πράγματα όπως κακοκοφορμισμένες πληγές, βρώμικο αίμα ή έστω ένα αξιοπρεπες ξερατό… οκ, σε κοπρολαγνεία έφτανε… Δυνατό σαφώς, δείχνει την ανάγκη του ανθρώπου να επιζήσει με κάθε μέσο, ακόμα και στις πιο αντίξοες συνθήκες, σοκαριστικά ρεαλιστικό, όμως νομίζω πως ο συγγραφέας πηδούσε με ιδιαίτερη ευκολία κομμάτια και γεγονότα, έτσι γιατί γούσταρε… Έτοιμο για κινηματογραφική μεταφορά… Αν μ’άρεσε; Με κούρασε ώρες – ώρες… δεν μπορούσα να το διαβάσω απνευστί… μέχρι και η καρδιά των σκορόφιδων μοιάζει με την καρδιά ενός μαρουλιού μπροστά στην καρδιά του Ντραξ… Η μετάφραση άψογη… (να τα λέμε κι αυτά…) Βαθμολογία: 6.8 / 10 Readathon 2017: Ένα βιβλίο συγγραφέα που έχει γράψει λιγότερα από 3 βιβλία [33/80] http://skorofido.blogspot.gr/2017/08/...

  28. 5 out of 5

    Γιώργος Κατσούλας

    ΦΤΙΑΓΜΈΝΟ ΓΙΑ ΝΑ ΓΊΝΕΙ ΤΑΙΝΊΑ!Η δράση δεν σταματά ποτέ και εξελισεται πάντα μπροστά χωρίς κανένα φλας μπακ.Ο συγγραφέας δεν σε μπερδεύει με πολλούς χαρακτήρες και πολλές ορολογίες και έτσι η ανάγνωση κυλάει νεράκι.Η γλώσσα του φυσικά είναι ωμή,σκληρή,ρεαλιστική και η περιγραφή κάποιων σκηνών είναι δοσμένη πολυ εντυπωσιακά.Ο συγγραφέας πλάθει έναν κόσμο χωρίς κανέναν θετικό ήρωα οπου ο ανθρωπος τεκικα θα αποδειχθει πιο επικυνδυνος απο τα στοιχεια της φυσης και τα αγρια θηρια.Χαρακτηρολογικο αποκο ΦΤΙΑΓΜΈΝΟ ΓΙΑ ΝΑ ΓΊΝΕΙ ΤΑΙΝΊΑ!Η δράση δεν σταματά ποτέ και εξελισεται πάντα μπροστά χωρίς κανένα φλας μπακ.Ο συγγραφέας δεν σε μπερδεύει με πολλούς χαρακτήρες και πολλές ορολογίες και έτσι η ανάγνωση κυλάει νεράκι.Η γλώσσα του φυσικά είναι ωμή,σκληρή,ρεαλιστική και η περιγραφή κάποιων σκηνών είναι δοσμένη πολυ εντυπωσιακά.Ο συγγραφέας πλάθει έναν κόσμο χωρίς κανέναν θετικό ήρωα οπου ο ανθρωπος τεκικα θα αποδειχθει πιο επικυνδυνος απο τα στοιχεια της φυσης και τα αγρια θηρια.Χαρακτηρολογικο αποκορυφωμα είναι φυσικά ο Χένρι Ντραξ ενας σχεδόν υπερ ανθρωπος σ που δεν κρυωνει δεν πειναει δεν υποφέρει. Γύρω του όλοι οι χαρακτήρες ειναι πολυσθνθετοι με τονισμός και τις αρνητικές και τις θετικές πλευρές τους.Ο συγγραφέας δεν χαρίζεται σε κανέναν ,αλλά κρατάει ίσες ισορροπίες απέναντι στην ηρωικη δουλειά και στα λαμόγια που την κάνουν.Το ύφος της γλώσσας μπορεί να είναι έτσι όπως πρέπει να είναι -χωρίς ίχνος ωραιοπηοισης και με ελάχιστες μεταφορες-στο τέλος όμως αλλάζει. Οταν το αρκτικο σκηνικό θα γίνει πρωταγωνιστής θα δώσει ρέστα.Οι μεταφορες και οι παρομοιωσεις θα δινουν και θα περνουν και πραγματικα θα είναι μεγαλειώδεις γεμάτες έμπνευση με εντυπωσιακό λεξιλόγιο. Πίσω από αυτήν την καταιγιστική περιπέτεια κρύβονται επίσης πολιτικά μηνύματα τα οποία είναι δοσμένα πολυ ντελικατα και έμμεσα. Στο φιλοσοφικό τομέα και στους διαλόγους υστερεί κάπως καθώς οι συζητήσεις δύο χαρακτήρων -ενός θρησκόληπτοι που διαβάζει την βίβλο και του Γιατρού που διαβάζει την Ιλιάδα -είναι κάπως επιφανειακές. Περιμένω τον Φασμπεντερ στο ρόλο του Ντραξ τον Τομ Χαμός στον ρόλο του Γιατρού και τον Λίαν Μισόν στον ρόλο του καπετανιου.Ένας Ινιαριτου η ένας Ριντλευ Σκοτ η ένας Κουαρον πίσω από την κάμερα θα έκαναν θαύματα.Φυσικά στην φωτογραφία Εμανουελ Λεμπεφσκι.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Rebecca

    A gritty tale of adventure and murder set aboard a mid-nineteenth-century whaling ship. Archaic adjectives pile up in a clever recreation of Victorian prose: “The men, empurpled, reeking, drenched in the fish’s steaming, expectorated gore.” Much of the novel is bleak and brutal like that. There are a lot of “F” and “C” words, too, and this is so impeccably researched that I don’t doubt the language is accurate. McGuire never shies away from the gory details of life, whether that’s putrid smells, A gritty tale of adventure and murder set aboard a mid-nineteenth-century whaling ship. Archaic adjectives pile up in a clever recreation of Victorian prose: “The men, empurpled, reeking, drenched in the fish’s steaming, expectorated gore.” Much of the novel is bleak and brutal like that. There are a lot of “F” and “C” words, too, and this is so impeccably researched that I don’t doubt the language is accurate. McGuire never shies away from the gory details of life, whether that’s putrid smells, bodily fluids, animal slaughter, or human cruelty. I thought the novel’s villain was perhaps too evil, with no redeeming features at all. Still, this is a powerful inquiry into human nature and the making of ethical choices in extreme circumstances. From the open seas to the forbidding polar regions, this is a journey worth taking. Non-subscribers can read an excerpt of my review at BookBrowse.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Diane Barnes

    This is a truly wonderful adventure/thriller book, excellently written, well plotted, and characters that could almost be touched and smelled, they were so perfectly portrayed. Good and evil on a whaling boat venturing into the far north, I read this on an afternoon of a rare snowstorm where I live in the South, so the falling snow and grey skies just added to the atmosphere of the novel. Not sure what this says about me, but the violence, blood and gore, and ruthless killing of both men and anim This is a truly wonderful adventure/thriller book, excellently written, well plotted, and characters that could almost be touched and smelled, they were so perfectly portrayed. Good and evil on a whaling boat venturing into the far north, I read this on an afternoon of a rare snowstorm where I live in the South, so the falling snow and grey skies just added to the atmosphere of the novel. Not sure what this says about me, but the violence, blood and gore, and ruthless killing of both men and animals really didn't bother me at all. It's not something I seek out in the books I read, but Ian McGuire made it all seem like a natural part of the story. This guy is a skilled storyteller; sign me up for his next one.

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