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Ship Fever

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Overview

1996 National Book Award Winner for Fiction.
The elegant short fictions gathered hereabout the love of science and the science of love are often set against the backdrop of the nineteenth century. Interweaving historical and fictional characters, they encompass both past and present as they negotiate the complex territory of ambition, failure, achievement, and shattered dreams. In "Ship Fever," the title novella, a young Canadian doctor finds himself at the center of one of ...

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Ship Fever

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Overview

1996 National Book Award Winner for Fiction.
The elegant short fictions gathered hereabout the love of science and the science of love are often set against the backdrop of the nineteenth century. Interweaving historical and fictional characters, they encompass both past and present as they negotiate the complex territory of ambition, failure, achievement, and shattered dreams. In "Ship Fever," the title novella, a young Canadian doctor finds himself at the center of one of history's most tragic epidemics. In "The English Pupil," Linnaeus, in old age, watches as the world he organized within his head slowly drifts beyond his reach. And in "The Littoral Zone," two marine biologists wonder whether their life-altering affair finally was worth it. In the tradition of Alice Munro and William Trevor, these exquisitely rendered fictions encompass whole lives in a brief space. As they move between interior and exterior journeys, "science is transformed from hard and known fact into malleable, strange and thrilling fictional material" (Boston Globe).

The love of science, the science of love--and the struggle to reconcile the two--are the subjects of this remarkable collection, stories and a novella. Interweaving historical and fictional characters, these stories move between past and present as they negotiate the complex territory of ambition, failure, achievement, and shattered dreams.

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Editorial Reviews

Boston Globe
“Beautiful stories about the wonder and work of science…In Barrett’s hands, science is transformed from hard and known fact into malleable, strange, and thrilling fictional material.”
The New Yorker
“The title novella is devastating: as with every story here, you enter right into it, and cannot entirely leave it behind.”
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
The quantifiable truths of science intersect with the less easily measured precincts of the heart in these eight seductively stylish tales. In the graphic title novella, a self-doubting, idealistic Canadian doctor's faith in science is sorely tested in 1847 when he takes a hospital post at a quarantine station flooded with diseased, dying Irish immigrants fleeing the potato famine. The story, which deftly exposes English and Canadian prejudice against the Irish, turns on the doctor's emotions, oscillating between a quarantined Irish woman and a wealthy Canadian lady, his onetime childhood playmate. In ``The English Pupil,'' Swedish botanist Carolus Linnaeus, who brought order to the natural world with his system of nomenclature, battles the disorder of his own aging mind as he suffers from paralysis and memory loss at age 70. In ``The Behavior of the Hawkweeds,'' a precious letter drafted by Austrian monk Gregor Mendel, who discovered the laws of heredity, reverberates throughout the narrator's marriage to her husband, an upstate New York geneticist. Barrett (The Forms of Water) uses science as a prism to illuminate, in often unsettling ways, the effects of ambition, intuition and chance on private and professional lives. (Jan.)
Thomas Mallon
"Her work stands out for its sheer intelligence....The overall effect is quietly dazzling." -- The New York Times Book Review
Diane Cole
"An extraordinary short story collection....Barrett blends a sure grasp of the history and method of science into each of her evocative tales." -- Chicago Tribune
Diane Cole
[An] extraordinary short story collection….[Barrett] blends a sure grasp of the history and method of science into each of her evocative tales.
Chicago Tribune
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780393316001
  • Publisher: Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
  • Publication date: 11/28/1996
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 256
  • Sales rank: 307,431
  • Lexile: 920L (what's this?)
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 8.20 (h) x 0.70 (d)

Meet the Author

Andrea Barrett

Andrea Barrett is the author of The Air We Breathe, Servants of the Map (finalist for the Pulitzer Prize), The Voyage of the Narwhal, Ship Fever (winner of the National Book Award), and other books. She teaches at Williams College and lives in northwestern Massachusetts.

Biography

Andrea Barrett combines, as the critic Michiko Kakutani put it, "a naturalist's eye with a novelist's imagination." For the award-winning novelist and short-story writer, natural science, particularly nineteenth-century natural history, is a central preoccupation, and scientists and naturalists such as Linnaeus, Darwin, and Mendel frequently figure in her work. Barrett herself, however, gave up the study of science shortly after completing an undergraduate degree in biology. She entered a Ph.D. program in zoology but dropped out during the first semester.

Yet the way Barrett writes is, perhaps, her own brand of science; it involves long hours of research and the painstaking distillation of historical fact into historically accurate fiction. By her own admission, Barrett is an obsessive researcher: "Often for a story, I will do enough research to write a couple of novels, and for a novel I'll do enough research to have written an encyclopedia," she said in an interview in The Atlantic. But in the end, she adds, "fiction is about the characters, the image, the language, the poetry, the sound; it isn't about information. The information has to be distilled down to let us focus on what's really going on with the people."

Barrett didn't start writing fiction in earnest until her thirties, and she labored in comparative obscurity until 1996. Then, with four novels already behind her, she won the National Book Award for her first collection of short stories, Ship Fever. The collection explores the romantic and intellectual passions of a variety of historical and fictional characters, from an aging Linnaeus to a pair of contemporary marine biologists. In it, "science is transformed from hard and known fact into malleable, strange and thrilling fictional material," said the Boston Globe.

The book's success launched Barrett into the literary limelight, where her reputation continued to grow. Her next book, The Voyage of the Narwhal, tells the story of a doomed scientific voyage to the Arctic in 1855. The writer Thomas Mallon called it "a brilliant reversal of Heart of Darkness: the danger is not that the characters will 'go native,' but that a lust for scientific knowledge and intellectual distinction will drive them to cruelties they would have been incapable of before."

Recently, Barrett's work has begun to feature recurring characters, some of them related to one another. In another collection of stories, Servants of the Map, several characters from Ship Fever reappear, as does the ship cook from The Voyage of the Narwhal. As Barrett follows the trajectory of their lives and relationships, it is increasingly apparent how attuned she is to the emotional lives, as well as the intellectual lives, of her characters. As Barry Unsworth wrote in The New York Times Book Review, Barrett captures "that blend of precision and appropriateness that has always characterized the best prose, an attentiveness to the truth of human feeling that is in itself a supremely civilized value."

Good To Know

When she isn't writing, Barrett plays African percussion with a group of musicians in Rochester, N.Y. The group includes her husband, the biologist Barry Goldstein.
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Table of Contents

The Behavior of the Hawkweeds 11
The English Pupil 34
The Littoral Zone 47
Rare Bird 59
Soroche 80
Birds with No Feet 103
The Marburg Sisters 123
Ship Fever 159
Acknowledgements 255
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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 5 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 5 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted June 24, 2012

    Highly Recommended

    Brillliant collection of short stories. In particular, the title story - a tragic account of the Irish Famine on a Canadian Island. This collection is for the literate who have a taste for science, history and are motivated to read by very intelligent, well crafted writing.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 10, 2005

    One of the best books I've ever read

    I can't do better than the previous commercial reviews because they're right. Barrett uses science as a prism to examine philosophy, love, marriage, relationships and other affairs of the heart. Characters go from one story to another and into her newest, 'Servants of the Map,' but start with 'Ship Fever' and go on. It's a great read. Think of it as an intellectual's 'beach book' even though it's more than that.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 14, 2004

    Wonderful Writing

    I thought this book deserved at least one review. The author tells a collection of very different stories all linked by science. The book was very well written and had a good pace. Well worth a read, even if you aren't a fan of short stories.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 1, 2008

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 4, 2013

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Sort by: Showing all of 5 Customer Reviews

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