Wednesday, April 13, 2016

The North Water

by Ian McGuire

I've only once before encountered the word pong used in the sense of "an odor," and the author's use of it in this book is spot-on: what smell could be described as a pong if not the stank of a bunch of dudes on a whaling ship in 1800-something? Richly descriptive, with a soup├žon of period-appropriate slang and (presumably) well-researched whaling industry jargon, the book's language flows easily and speeds the narrative tension without sacrificing atmosphere or forgoing the occasional fifty-cent word.

Set against the blinding white of Arctic summer, the plot certainly offers a stark good vs evil contrast, while the protagonist's journey involves moral ambiguities and second chances. Being a relatively short thriller, though, this book has nowhere near the philosophical depth of Moby-Dick, however tempting the comparison may be. But a gripping and visceral tale is exactly what I needed when I found this book, and I can heartily recommend it on its own terms.

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