The North Water by Ian McGuire

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4.34 (45 votes)

Ian McGuire was born in Hull, East Yorkshire, in 1964. An American author and academic, he published The North Water in 2017. Discover a short biography of the author, his book, its ratings, as well as reviews and more about it.

Ian McGuire grew up near Hull. After being Co-Director of the Centre for New Writing, he became an Honorary Senior Lecturer at the Centre for New Writing, a position that he still currently holds. He writes on the American realist tradition from 1880s onwards, his sphere of interest.

More than 20 years ago, he worked at the University of Manchester as a lecturer in American Literature, lecturing later in Creative Writing.

Ian studied at the University of Manchester. He then earned a MA from the University of Sussex and a Ph.D in 19th Century American Literature from the University of Virginia.

His stories has been published in different magazines and journals, among them the Paris Review and the Chicago Review. Moreover, he has published articles on Walt Whitman, Herman Melville and William Dean Howells.

His first novel was Incredible Bodies. He also wrote a biography of Richard Ford.

The North Water, his second novel (2017), was elected one of The New York Times Book Review’s 10 Best Books of the Year, National Bestseller and a New York Times and Wall Street Journal Bestseller. It was also named a Best Book of the Year by Chicago Tribune, The Wall Street Journal, The Guardian, New Statesman, Publishers Weekly, and Chicago Public Library and longlisted for the Man Booker Prize.

The North Water is a mix of sea story, historical novel and thriller. The story takes place in places of extremes and in areas outside of most people’s realm of experience. In his novel, Ian McGuire highlights well-researched detail and gives us persuasive descriptions of the cold, violence, cruelty and the raw, bloody business of whale-killing. It reflects Ian‘s efforts to discover the voice of nineteenth century whalers.

Drax, one of the characters, behaves instinctually like a villain or even a monster. A good comparison could be to Mr Hyde in Stevenson’s Jekyll and Hyde or to the whale in Moby Dick. When he is writing, Ian uses violence and perversity primarily from a technical perspective. His aim is just to be persuasive by creating action.


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

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

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



One comment

  1. The North Water is a remarkable sea adventure story, well wrapped up, with interesting and strong characters, good pacing and accurate writing style. We can see the characters’ inner struggle between good and evil, inhumanity up to ugliness and violence. This book is a page-turner even if it might be felt as a bit violent at certain times.

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