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The North Water

The North Water

5.0 2
by Ian McGuire

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One of The New York Times Book Review's 10 Best Books of the Year
Longlisted for the Man Booker Prize
A New York Times Book Review Notable Book
An Amazon Best Book of the Year

"The North Water...is a great white shark of a book — swift, terrifying, relentless and


One of The New York Times Book Review's 10 Best Books of the Year
Longlisted for the Man Booker Prize
A New York Times Book Review Notable Book
An Amazon Best Book of the Year

"The North Water...is a great white shark of a book — swift, terrifying, relentless and unstoppable."
Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times

“Riveting and darkly brilliant….The North Water feels like the result of an encounter between Joseph Conrad and Cormac McCarthy in some run-down port as they offer each other a long, sour nod of recognition.”
Colm Toibin, The New York Times Book Review

"[An] audacious work of historical suspense fiction...It's the poetic precision of McGuire's harsh vision of the past that makes his novel such a standout...absolutely transporting."
Maureen Corrigan, NPR's Fresh Air

A nineteenth-century whaling ship sets sail for the Arctic with a killer aboard in this dark, sharp, and highly original tale that grips like a thriller.

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.

Editorial Reviews

The New York Times - Michiko Kakutani
…a great white shark of a book—swift, terrifying, relentless and unstoppable…[McGuire's] exhaled his knowledge of literature into a gripping thriller that pulses with echoes of countless classics, from Melville's Moby-Dick…to Poe's The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket…Mr. McGuire is such a natural storyteller—and recounts his tale here with such authority and verve—that The North Water swiftly immerses the reader in a fully imagined world…it is also genuinely suspenseful, its plot catapulting dangerously toward a fateful confrontation between Drax and Sumner…[McGuire] has written an allusion-filled novel that still manages to feel original, a violent tale of struggle and survival in a cinematically beautiful landscape reminiscent of the movie The Revenant but rendered with far more immediacy and considerably less self-importance.
The New York Times Book Review - Colm Toibin
Ian McGuire's riveting and darkly brilliant novel The North Water…feels like the result of an encounter between Joseph Conrad and Cormac McCarthy in some run-down port as they offer each other a long, sour nod of recognition…McGuire has an extraordinary talent for picturing a moment, offering precise, sharp, cinematic details. When he has to describe complex action, he manages the physicality with immense clarity. He writes about violence with unsparing color and, at times, a sort of relish…There is an intensity in the way [the characters] live, breathe, and respond to the world that etches them more deeply on the page and on the imagination of the reader…It is possible at certain moments to sense the battle between [Sumner and Drax] as a clash between darkness and light, good and evil. It is a mark of McGuire's subtlety as a novelist, however, that he leaves this in the shadows while placing at the forefront enough felt life and closely imagined detail to resist any simple categories. He allows each of the two men their due strangeness and individuality.
Publishers Weekly
★ 02/22/2016
McGuire’s novel is a dark, brilliant yarn set on a 19th-century Yorkshire whaler in the dead of winter. An ex-army surgeon named Patrick Sumner, his reputation ruined by an ignoble incident in wartime India, seeks to escape his past by shipping out as doctor on the whaling ship Volunteer, bound for the Arctic Circle. But the voyage to the waters north of the British Isle is doomed from the beginning: the men responsible for the ship have no intention of bringing it back in one piece. And if that weren’t enough, a debauched murderer named Henry Drax is aboard. The harpooners meet with some success while at sea, whaling, sealing, and capturing a bear cub, but a test of wills begins after the mutilated body of a cabin boy is discovered below deck in a cask used to store minced-up whale blubber. Sumner challenges the suspected culprit, violence ensues, and soon the ship is without leadership. The frozen seas threaten to cripple the ship, and what’s left of the crew tries desperately to survive the worst of the winter trapped in the ice. There is no light, no letup in this gruesome tale, so there is great significance in the rare but moving acts of kindness and camaraderie between these men in peril. An amazing journey. (Apr.)
From the Publisher

The North Water, Ian McGuire’s savage new novel about a 19th-century Arctic whaling expedition, is a great white shark of a book—swift, terrifying, relentless and unstoppable. [...] Mr. McGuire is such a natural storyteller—and recounts his tale here with such authority and verve—that 'The North Water' swiftly immerses the reader in a fully imagined world. [...] Mr. McGuire nimbly folds all these melodramatic developments into his story as it hurtles toward its conclusion. He has written an allusion-filled novel that still manages to feel original, a violent tale of struggle and survival in a cinematically beautiful landscape.”
Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times

“Riveting and darkly brilliant….The North Water feels like the result of an encounter between Joseph Conrad and Cormac McCarthy in some run-down port as they offer each other a long, sour nod of recognition.”
Colm Toibin, The New York Times Book Review

“[An] audacious work of historical suspense fiction...It's the poetic precision of McGuire's harsh vision of the past that makes his novel such a standout...absolutely transporting.”
—Maureen Corrigan, NPR's Fresh Air

“Mesmerizing . . . . Told in grisly language that calls to mind Cormac McCarthy,The North Water begs such ontological questions as: What profit it a man who saves his skin but misplaces his soul?”
Tom Nolan, Wall Street Journal

“Bold and frightening, The North Water offers many satisfactions and little comfort. . . . Readers of Cormac McCarthy know that beautiful writing and bloody murder go together as well now as they did in Homer, and Ian McGuire proves it.”
Jonathan Arac, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

“Carries echoes of Melville and Lord Jim . . . engrossing . . . unsparing and utterly convincing.”
Highbrow Magazine

“A dark, brilliant yarn….An amazing journey.”
Publishers Weekly, starred review

“McGuire delivers…moments of fine prose that recall Seamus Heaney's harsh music, as when an iceberg is described as 'an albinistic butte unmoored from the desert floor.’”
Kirkus Reviews

“Raw and compulsively readable . . . think The Revenant for the Arctic Circle.”
The Millions

“It’s one of those ones that you want to wake up at 5.30 in the morning so you can read some more.”
James Daunt, founder of Daunt Books and managing director of Waterstones

The North Water is a conspiracy thriller stuffed into the skin of a blood-and-guts whaling yarn… The novel is a stunning achievement, by turns great fun and shocking, thrilling and provocative. . . . Behold: one of the finest books of the year.”

“McGuire delivers one bravura set-piece after another….The North Water has, in places, a Conrad–Melville undercurrent, but for the most part it is Dickens’s influence that is most keenly felt….This is a stunning novel, one that snares the reader from the outset and keeps the tightest grip until its bitter end.”
Financial Times

“McGuire’s prose is fresh and vivid and his novel as a whole is atmospheric and intellectually fecund. Its surface might be awash with blood; but beneath it flows a current of dark and transporting beauty.”

“As a storyteller, McGuire has a sure and unwavering touch, and he has engineered a superbly compelling suspense narrative….As a stylist, too, McGuire is never less than assured. He has produced a fine addition to the maritime canon, but one that revivifies it with a thoroughly modern acuity of style. He has established himself, too, as a writer of exceptional craft and confidence…”
—Irish Times

“Compared with this savage tale of Arctic survival, Leonardo DiCaprio’s bear-wrestling ordeal in The Revenant looks like something out of A. A. Milne….McGuire expertly arranges all this mayhem, and the narrative is horrifically gripping. The North Water is smoothly readable despite the horrors it depicts, and that’s testament to the quality of McGuire’s prose. Such fine writing might have been lifted from the pages of Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick.”
Independent on Sunday

“It is a vivid read, full of twists, turns, period detail and strong characters. The setting is original too, and the description of harpooning and flensing of a whale have been forever etched on my memory. This melodramatic blood and urine-stained tale is an enjoyable contrast to most literary fiction.”
The Times

“Uncompromising in its language, relentless in the unfolding of its blood-soaked narrative, this is not a novel for the squeamish, but it has exceptional power and energy.”
Sunday Times

“Terrific, seamed with pitch black humour and possessed of a momentum that's kept up to the final, unexpected but resoundingly satisfying scene….inspired.”
Daily Mail

“The strength of The North Water lies in its well-researched detail and persuasive descriptions of the cold, violence, cruelty, and the raw, bloody business of whale-killing.”

“Beware: this book is quite a ride. The violence is ghastly, the queasy sense of moral decay all-pervasive. McGuire makes Quentin Tarantino look like Jane Austen….the language has a harsh, surprising beauty that contrasts the spectacular setting with the greedy bankrupt men who force their way northward, armed with harpoons for slaughter.”
New Statesman

“I utterly believed in the world that McGuire has created….amazingly impressive set-pieces….[The violence] underlines the point that he is trying to make, a Dickensian point, which is that all privilege rests on squalor.”
BBC Radio 4 Saturday Review

“Full of foul deeds in a savagely beautiful setting, The North Water is a gripping, pitch-black yarn.”
Sydney Morning Herald

“This is a novel that takes us to the limits of flesh and blood. Utterly convincing and compelling, remorselessly vivid, and insidiously witty, The North Water is a startling achievement.”
—Martin Amis, New York Times bestselling author of Zone of Interest

“It's a fast-paced, gripping story set in a world of gruesome violence and perversity, where ‘why?’ is not a question and murder happens on a whim: but where a very faint ray of grace and hope lights up the landscape of salt and blood and ice. A tour de force of narrative tension and a masterful reconstruction of a lost world that seems to exist at the limits of the human imagination.”
Hilary Mantel, New York Times bestselling author of Wolf Hall

The North Water is the rare novel capable of making a past time and place palpable. Ian McGuire writes with a poet's attentiveness to detail, which infuses this dark and violent novel with an unsettling beauty.”
Ron Rash, New York Times bestselling author of Serena and Above the Waterfall

The North Water is a whaling novel in the same way that Blood Meridian is a western. I enjoyed the brashness and the economy of the writing, the sense of humanity, and the sly, black humor. The novel wasn't afraid to take chances and I was surprised several times. I was always entertained. . . . An exceedingly well-written historical adventure.”
Shannon Burke, author of Into the Savage Country

“If one took Melville's dream journal and compiled the nightmares into one harrowing novel, it would be Ian McGuire's The North Water. The claustrophobic conflict between the flawed humanity of Patrick Sumner and the supernatural evil of Henry Drax examines the brutal depths of the human soul.”
James Scott, author of The Kept

“Enthralling and brutal. A vivisection of hard men in a cold world, and a propulsive, suspenseful adventure into the darkness of mortal existence.”
Dennis Mahoney, author of Bell Weather and Fellow Mortals

Kirkus Reviews
For a whaling ship out of Hull, England, bad luck and evil men turn an 1859 expedition into a nightmare. Henry Drax sets the tone in the opening pages, emerging from a harbor bordello, murdering a man for not buying him a drink, and killing a boy who might be leading him into an ambush. Drax is a harpooner among the 40-man crew of the Volunteer, a ship doomed before it sails. Capt. Brownlee has agreed with the owner to wreck the vessel for insurance when it reaches the North Water in Baffin Bay. Much of the action is seen through the eyes of ship's surgeon Patrick Sumner, who has a laudanum habit and carries a dark secret from his service with the British military in India. He plays detective when a cabin boy is sodomized and later murdered, eventually discovering one of the victim's teeth in Drax's arm. The vicious Drax also murders Brownlee and two Eskimo hunters who help the crew when the ship is wrecked and the sailors camp on ice. Along with human menace and mayhem, McGuire (Incredible Bodies, 2007) serves up gruesome descriptions of the killing of a whale and a polar bear. A bear rips off a man's arm. A man shelters from the cold in a freshly gutted polar bear. And for good measure, a man's intestinal abscess is operated on with stomach-turning detail. McGuire delivers not only arresting depictions of bloody destruction, but moments of fine prose that recall Seamus Heaney's harsh music, as when an iceberg is described as "an albinistic butte unmoored from the desert floor." For noirish thrills in an unusual setting, McGuire has the goods and the gore, but this book—graphic in its violence, language, and sexual references—is not for the squeamish.

Product Details

Holt, Henry & Company, Inc.
Publication date:
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6.40(w) x 9.30(h) x 1.30(d)

Read an Excerpt

The North Water

A Novel

By Ian McGuire

Henry Holt and Company

Copyright © 2016 Ian McGuire
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-62779-594-4


Behold the man.

He shuffles 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 the 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. His shoulder rubs against the smoothed red brick, a dog runs past, a cart piled high with rough-cut timber. He breathes in again and runs his tongue along the haphazard ramparts of his teeth. He senses a fresh need, small but insistent, arising inside him, a new requirement aching to be met. His ship leaves at first light, but before then there is something that must be done. He peers around and for a moment wonders what it is. He notices the pink smell of blood from the pork butcher's, the grimy sway of a woman's skirts. He thinks of flesh, animal, human, then thinks again — it is not that kind of ache, he decides, not yet; it is the milder one, the one less pressing.

He turns around and walks back towards the tavern. The bar is almost empty at this hour in the morning. There is a low fire in the grate and a smell of frying. He delves in his pocket, but all he finds there are bread crumbs, a jackknife, and a halfpenny coin.

"Rum," he says.

He pushes the single halfpenny across the bar. The barman looks down at the coin and shakes his head.

"I'm leaving in the morning," he explains, "on the Volunteer. I'll give you my note of hand."

The barman snorts.

"Do I look like a fool?" he says.

The man shrugs and thinks a moment.

"Head or tails then. This good knife of mine against a tot of your rum."

He puts the jackknife on the bar, and the barman picks it up and looks at it carefully. He unfolds the blade and tests it against the ball of his thumb.

"It's a fine knife, that one," the man says. "Hant never failed me yet."

The barman takes a shilling from his pocket and shows it. He tosses the coin and slaps it down hard. They both look. The barman nods, picks up the knife, and stows it in his waistcoat pocket.

"And now you can fuck off," he says.

The man's expression doesn't alter. He shows no sign of irritation or surprise. It is as though losing the knife is part of a greater and more complex plan which only he is privy to. After a moment, he bends down, tugs off his sea boots, and puts them side by side on top of the bar.

"Toss again," he says.

The barman rolls his eyes and turns away.

"I don't want your fucking boots," he says.

"You have my knife," the man says. "You can't back away now."

"I don't want no fucking boots," the barman says again.

"You can't back away."

"I'll do whatever the fuck I like," the barman says.

There's a Shetlander leaning at the other end of the bar watching them. He is wearing a stocking cap and canvas britches caked with filth. His eyes are red and loose and drunken.

"I'll buy ye a drink myself," he says, "if ye just shut the fuck up."

The man looks back at him. He has fought Shetlanders before in Lerwick and in Peterhead. They are not clever fighters, but they are stubborn and hard to finish off. This one has a rusty blubber-knife pushed into his belt and a gamy, peevish look about him. After a moment's pause, the man nods.

"I'd thank you for that," he says. "I've been whoring all night and the whistle's dry."

The Shetlander nods to the barman, and the barman, with a grand show of reluctance, pours out another drink. The man takes his sea boots off the bar, picks up the drink, and walks over to a bench by the fire. After a few minutes, he lies down, pulls his knees up to his chest, and falls asleep. When he wakes up again, the Shetlander is sitting at a table in the corner talking to a whore. She is dark-haired and fat and has a mottled face and greenish teeth. The man recognizes her but cannot now recall the name. Betty? he wonders. Hatty? Esther?

The Shetlander calls over to a black boy who is crouching in the doorway, gives him a coin, and instructs him to bring back a plate of mussels from the fishmongers on Bourne Street. The boy is nine or ten years old, slender with large dark eyes and pale brown skin. The man pulls himself upright on the bench and fills his pipe with his last crumbles of tobacco. He lights his pipe and looks about. He has woken up renewed and ready. He can feel his muscles lying loose beneath his skin, his heart tensing and relaxing inside his chest. The Shetlander tries to kiss the woman and is rebuffed with an avaricious squeal. Hester, the man remembers. The woman's name is Hester and she has a windowless room on James Square with an iron bedstead, a jug and basin, and an India-rubber bulb for washing out the jism. He stands up and walks over to where the two of them are sitting.

"Buy me one more drink," he says.

The Shetlander squints at him briefly, then shakes his head and turns back to Hester.

"Just one more drink and that'll be the last you hear of it."

The Shetlander ignores him, but the man doesn't move. His patience is of the dull and shameless kind. He feels his heart swell, then shrink; he smells the usual tavern stench — farts and pipe smoke and spilled ale. Hester looks up at him and giggles. Her teeth are more gray than green; her tongue is the color of a pig's liver. The Shetlander takes his blubber-knife out of his belt and places it on the table. He stands up.

"I'd sooner cut ye fucking balls off for ye than buy ye another drink," he says.

The Shetlander is lanky and loose-limbed. His hair and beard are dank with seal grease and he reeks of the forecastle. The man begins to understand now what he must do — to sense the nature of his current urges and the shape of their accomplishment. Hester giggles again. The Shetlander picks up the knife and lays its cold blade against the man's cheekbone.

"I could cut ye fucking nose off too and feed it to the fucking porkers out back."

He laughs at this idea, and Hester laughs with him.

The man looks untroubled. This is not yet the moment he is waiting for. This is only a dull but necessary interlude, a pause. The barman picks up a wooden club and creaks up the hinge of the bar.

"You," he says, pointing at him, "are a skiving cunt, and a damned liar, and I want you gone."

The man looks at the clock on the wall. It is just past noon. He has sixteen hours to do whatever it is he must do. To satisfy himself again. The ache he feels is his body speaking its needs, talking to him — sometimes a whisper, sometimes a mumble, sometimes a shriek. It never goes silent; if it ever goes silent then he will know that he is finally dead, that some other fucker has finally killed him, and that will be that.

He steps suddenly towards the Shetlander to let him know he is not afraid, then steps away again. He turns towards the barman and lifts his chin.

"You can stick that shillelagh up your fucking arse," he says.

The barman points him to the door. As the man is leaving, the boy arrives with a tin plate of mussels, steaming and fragrant. They look at each other for a moment, and the man feels a new pulse of certainty.

He walks back down Sykes Street. He does not think of the Volunteer, now lying at dock, which he has spent the past week laboring to trim and pack, nor of the bloody six-month voyage to come. He thinks only of this present moment — Grotto Square, the Turkish Baths, the auction house, the ropery, the cobbles beneath his feet, the agnostic Yorkshire sky. He is not by nature impatient or fidgety; he will wait when waiting is required. He finds a wall and sits down upon it; when he is hungry he sucks a stone. The hours pass. People walking by remark him but do not attempt to speak. Soon it will be time. He watches as the shadows lengthen, as it rains briefly, then ceases raining, as the clouds shudder across the dampened sky. It is almost dusk when he sees them at last. Hester is singing a ballad; the Shetlander has a grog bottle in one hand and is conducting her clumsily with the other. He watches them turn into Hodgson's Square. He waits a moment, then scuttles round the corner onto Caroline Street. It is not yet nighttime, but it is dark enough, he decides. The windows in the Tabernacle are glowing; there is a smell of coal dust and giblets in the air. He reaches Fiche's Alley before them and slides inside. The courtyard is empty except for a line of grimy laundry and the high, ammoniacal scent of horse piss. He stands against a darkened doorway with a half brick gripped in his fist. When Hester and the Shetlander come into the courtyard, he waits for a moment to be sure, then steps forwards and smashes the half brick hard into the back of the Shetlander's head.

The bone gives way easily. There is a fine spray of blood and a noise like a wet stick snapping. The Shetlander flops senselessly forwards, and his teeth and nose break against the cobblestones. Before Hester can scream, the man has the blubber-knife against her throat.

"I'll slice you open like a fucking codfish," he promises.

She looks at him wildly, then holds up her mucky hands in surrender.

He empties the Shetlander's pockets, takes his money and tobacco, and throws the rest aside. There is a halo of blood dilating around the Shetlander's face and head, but he is still faintly breathing.

"We need to move that bastard now," Hester says, "or I'll be in the shit."

"So move him," the man says. He feels lighter than he did a moment before, as if the world has widened round him.

Hester tries to drag the Shetlander around by the arm, but he's too heavy. She skids on the blood and falls over onto the cobbles. She laughs to herself, then begins to moan. The man opens the coal shed door and drags the Shetlander inside by the heels.

"They can find him tomorrow," he says. "I'll be long gone by then."

She stands up, still unsteady from the drink, and tries impossibly to wipe the mud from her skirts. The man turns to leave.

"Give us a shilling or two, will you, darling?" Hester calls out to him. "For all me trouble."

* * *

It takes him an hour to hunt down the boy. His name is Albert Stubbs and he sleeps in a brick culvert below the north bridge and lives off bones and peelings and the occasional copper earned by running errands for the drunkards who gather in the shithole taverns by the waterfront waiting for a ship.

The man offers him food. He shows him the money he stole from the Shetlander.

"Tell me what you want," he says, "and I'll buy it for you."

The boy looks back at him speechlessly, like an animal surprised in its lair. The man notices he has no smell to him at all — amidst all this filth he has remained somehow clean, unsullied, as if the natural darkness of his pigment is a protection against sin and not, as some men believe, an expression of it.

"You're a sight to see," the man tells him.

The boy asks for rum, and the man takes a greasy half bottle from his pocket and gives it to him. As the boy drinks the rum, his eyes glaze slightly and the fierceness of his reticence declines.

"My name's Henry Drax," the man explains, as softly as he is able to. "I'm a harpooner. I ship at dawn on the Volunteer."

The boy nods without interest, as if this is all information he had heard long before. His hair is musty and dull, but his skin is preternaturally clean. It shines in the tarnished moonlight like a piece of polished teak. The boy is shoeless, and the soles of his feet have become blackened and horny from contact with the pavement. Drax feels the urge to touch him now — on the side of the face perhaps or the peak of the shoulder. It would be a signal, he thinks, a way to begin.

"I saw you before in the tavern," the boy says. "You had no money then."

"My situation is altered," Drax explains.

The boy nods again and drinks more rum. Perhaps he is nearer twelve, Drax thinks, but stunted as they often are. He reaches out and takes the bottle from the boy's lips.

"You should eat something," he says. "Come with me."

They walk together without speaking, up Wincomlee and Sculcoates, past the Whalebone Inn, past the timber yards. They stop in at Fletcher's bakery and Drax waits while the boy wolfs down a meat pie.

When the boy has finished, he wipes his mouth, scours the phlegm from the back of his throat, and spits it out into the gutter. He looks suddenly older than before.

"I know a place we can go to," he says, pointing across the road. "Just down there, see, on past the boatyard."

Drax realizes immediately that this must be a trap. If he goes into the boatyard with the nigger boy he will be beaten bloody and stripped down like a cunt. It is a surprise that the boy has misprized him so thoroughly. He feels, first, contempt for the boy's ill judgment, and then, more pleasantly, like the swell and shudder of a fresh idea, the beginnings of fury.

"I'm the fucker, me," he tells him softly. "I'm never the one that's fucked."

"I know that," the boy says. "I understand."

The other side of the road is in deep shadow. There is a ten-foot wooden gate with peeling green paint, a brick wall, and then an alley floored with rubble. There is no light inside the alley, and the only sound is the crunch of Drax's boot heels and the boy's intermittent, tubercular wheezing. The yellow moon is lodged like a bolus in the narrowed throat of the sky. After a minute, they are released into a courtyard half-filled with broken casks and rusted hooping.

"It's through there," the boy says. "Not far."

His face betrays a telling eagerness. If Drax had any doubts before, he has none left now.

"Come to me," he tells the boy.

The boy frowns and indicates again the way he wants them both to go. Drax wonders how many of the boy's companions are waiting for them in the boatyard and what weapons they are planning to use against him. Does he really look, he wonders, like the kind of useless prick who can be robbed by children? Is that the impression he presently gives out to the waiting world?

"Come here," he says again.

The boy shrugs and walks forwards.

"We'll do it now," Drax says. "Here and now. I won't wait."

The boy stops and shakes his head.

"No," he says. "The boatyard is better."

The courtyard's gloom perfects him, Drax thinks, smooths out his prettiness into a sullen kind of beauty. He looks like a pagan idol standing there, a totem carved from ebony, not like a boy but more like the far-fetched ideal of a boy.

"Just what kind of a cunt do you think I am?" Drax asks.

The boy frowns for a moment, then offers him a beguiling and implausible grin. None of this is new, Drax thinks, it has all been done before, and it will all be done over again in other places and at other times. The body has its tedious patterns, its regularities: the feeding, the cleaning, the emptying of the bowels.

The boy touches him quickly on the elbow and indicates again the way he wants them both to go. The boatyard. The trap. Drax hears a seagull squawking above his head, notices the solid smell of bitumen and oil paint, the sidereal sprawl of the Great Bear. He grabs the nigger boy by the hair and punches him, then punches him again and again — two, three, four times, fast, without hesitation or compunction — until Drax's knuckles are warm and dark with blood, and the boy is slumped, limp and unconscious. He is thin and bony and weighs no more than a terrier. Drax turns him over and pulls down his britches. There is no pleasure in the act and no relief, a fact which only increases its ferocity. He has been cheated of something living, something nameless but also real.

Lead and pewter clouds obscure the fullish moon; there is the clatter of iron-rimmed cartwheels, the infantile whine of a cat in heat. Drax goes swiftly through the motions: one action following the next, passionless and precise, machinelike, but not mechanical. 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. What the nigger boy used to be has now disappeared. He is gone completely, 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.


Excerpted from The North Water by Ian McGuire. Copyright © 2016 Ian McGuire. Excerpted by permission of Henry Holt and Company.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

Ian McGuire grew up near Hull, England, and studied at the University of Manchester and the University of Virginia in the United States. He is the cofounder and codirector of the University of Manchester's Centre for New Writing. He writes criticism and fiction, and his stories have been published in Chicago Review, The Paris Review, and elsewhere. The North Water is his second novel.

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The North Water 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 2 reviews.
Spinswool 13 days ago
Thoroughly enjoyed this book. It held my interest so much that I could not stop reading it.
Anonymous 3 months ago