Having read the long and arduous, true-life tale of The Essex in the book The Heart of The Sea, I had put off reading The Northwater, despite the reviews and praise and despite it being a work of fiction. Although I am drawn to stories of survival in the cold and inhospitable corners of the world, I’d had enough of brutal descriptions of the whaling industry for the time being. Finally, I succumbed to the lure of this book and I say, Wow, I am so glad that I did.
In some ways, although a work of fiction, The Northwater is even more tough and uncompromising in its descriptions and yet at the same time, for me, it so perfectly captured the place and the era. As the ship set sail in 1859, I felt that I had time-traveled to a world that I could hardly comprehend; rough and uncaring of man or beast.
Into this world comes Drax, the worst of the worst, and Sumner a doctor with a history he would rather forget. They are thrown together with a rag tag crew to head north from The English port of Hull in search of whales. What neither man knows is that the captain has a very different agenda for the voyage.
The story surprised me; yes, there are the descriptions of the despicable trade of whaling, and of the totally unfeeling treatment of any other creature the sailors happen upon, including their fellow man, but what made them interesting was the viewpoint, shown through the rough-hewn characters and morals of the time. It felt as believable as it was shocking.
As the story progresses the real purpose of the voyage is revealed along with the escalating crimes of the monster, Drax. Murder and rape are nothing to him and it will take a strong man to stop him.
I thoroughly enjoyed this tale but beware, ultra-strong language and terminology make it not for the faint of heart.
I couldn’t end this review without a few words about the narrator of the Audible presentation, John Keating. He was excellent; I couldn’t imagine any voice more perfect for the book.