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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A marvellous blend of history and human insight
This book exists on many layers. It is superficially an account of a fictional, but highly plausible, account of a mission to discover the fate of the explorer Franklin, who vanished seeking the northwest passage. But it is much more than that. Barrett weaves into this narrative not only great poetry but great insight into the motivation of her two main characters,...
Published on 14 Jun 1999

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3 of 7 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars An historical tale set in the Arctic / E Coast US in 19th Century
Having read many true accounts of arctic adventures I thought I read some arctic fiction. The historical references seem to be correct. However the story is not one of heroism and neither is it uplifting in any way. It is the account in the life of an analytical academic who's seen the world but lives purely within his own small world. He let's life happen to him and...
Published on 28 Dec 2006 by Ixi Books


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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A marvellous blend of history and human insight, 14 Jun 1999
By A Customer
This book exists on many layers. It is superficially an account of a fictional, but highly plausible, account of a mission to discover the fate of the explorer Franklin, who vanished seeking the northwest passage. But it is much more than that. Barrett weaves into this narrative not only great poetry but great insight into the motivation of her two main characters, the egomaniacal leader of the expedition, who seeks personal glory above all, and the expedition's diffident naturalist, who in his own way is just as self-aggrandising. Like that other great book of external and internal voyage, White's Voss, The Narwhal succeeds in both its actual and metaphorical purposes. A remarkable read.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Glorious Exploration, 1 Feb 2011
By 
Sentinel (Essex) - See all my reviews
(TOP 500 REVIEWER)   
This review is from: The Voyage of the Narwhal (Paperback)
Ostensibly a quest to seek the last traces of the Franklin expedition, this captivating novel pitches two characters, the careful, diffident Erasmus, and the headstrong, increasingly deluded Zeke onto a 19th C sailing ship, and into the beautifully strange world of the Arctic. Back home, the women wait and wonder, dreaming of possible futures. Meanwhile, the ship's company moves through various trials, and makes new, important and strange discoveries, on both their external and internal journeys.
The strangeness of the terrain and other cultures is also mirrored by the strangeness they discover in one another. Yet even in the heart of this frozen world, love continues to beat its uncertain yet insistent path. Barrett recreates the sound, sights and smells on board a sailing ship, until the reader almost fancies themselves as a crew member; meanwhile back at home the clock ticks slowly as those left behind try to make sense of what little news filters back. A beautifully wrought and sustained world, which is mourned by the reader when it slips away. Strongly recommended. If you enjoy this, you should also enjoy the much more contemporary The Forms of Water
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars "How can anyone bear to live and die without accomplishing something remarkable?", 11 April 2012
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Nicola F (Nic) (United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
(TOP 500 REVIEWER)   
This review is from: The Voyage of the Narwhal (Paperback)
I have had this book sat on my shelf for what seems like forever, so I'm pleased I eventually got around to reading it. Actually, I don't know why I didn't get around to it sooner- I think I'd been avoiding it because it was a bit of a long book on what I suspected might be quite a dry subject matter. Despite an admittedly slow start and some peaks and troughs in the middle however, this was actually a really absorbing read.

Set during the 19th Century, the novel follows the expedition of the crew of `The Narwhal,' on their journey to the polar north and their quest to try to find out the fate of vanished explorer, Sir John Franklin. On board with this motley crew is the headstrong, voyage leader Zeke, as well as naturalist Erasmus. Erasmus longs to visit the north to catalogue flora and fauna and gain a wealth of knowledge of a culture and terrain very different from his own, but it appears that Zeke's motives for the journey are somewhat questionable...

I think for me, one of the stronger aspects of this novel was the relationship dynamics portrayed between the two lead characters- Zeke and Erasmus. Both are very different individuals and their underlying conflict and tension is clear from the beginning of the book and I enjoyed seeing this played out as the story progressed. The secondary characters too, are well written- from Joe with his leanings towards the Arctic lifestyle, to the much underused Dr Boerhaave and ships cook, Ned. As much of the book is set aboard the ship and time ticks by very slowly, the characters have to be strongly developed, otherwise the novel will become too dull, but they carried the plot well with all of their little quirks and foibles, even lifting it unexpectedly in places as they tried to make the best of their new surroundings.

Another device used is women waiting at home for their men to return from sea, a common theme in this type of book, but one that I think is used to great effect here. I appreciated Alexandra as a character and as a person who tries to make the best of things, but I found Lavinia to be incredibly vapid and a bit one-dimensional and I didn't like her at all. I also have to say, that I did sense the twist that was coming towards the end, and for me, the book troughed a little once the explorers were on dry land, though this was to be expected of course.

The story is rife with details of life on board a ship and society at the time as well as looking at the Esquimaux culture, but thankfully the authors research does not come across as reading too much like a history textbook and is instead conveys a wealth of interesting information to the reader. I feel that I actually learned something in reading this book and it has piqued my interest in reading more books in this genre in future.

By one token a gripping adventure story, yet on the other hand a great tale of human insight and character study, this is a book I am pleased that I eventually gave a chance. I would recommend this if you enjoy well written historical fiction or have an interest in maritime history.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Well researched, enjoyable, 28 Jan 2009
This review is from: The Voyage of the Narwhal (Paperback)
This is an unusual and absorbing novel about an expedition to the arctic to try and discover what happened to Sir John Franklin's 1845 expedition, who set out to find the North West passgage but never returned. The plot is fictional but much of the rest - the various artefacts found, reports from the Eskimo etc. - are completely factual. The author seems to have done an enormous amount of research to get the background details authentic, such as how the ship would have been, what clothing was worn etc., which helps make the book a convincing and enjoyable read. My one criticism is that the story loses momentum badly when the action shifts from the arctic back to dry land, and the main intrigue up until this point - the growing tension between Zeke & Erasmus - isn't just unresolved but dropped altogether. Nevertheless, recommended.
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5.0 out of 5 stars A favorite novel, 31 Dec 2013
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Andrea Barrett's interest in and knowledge of 19th century science invests this story of Arctic adventure with an underpinning of he best of non-fiction with human stories of touching truth.
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5.0 out of 5 stars together with ship fever, 29 Aug 2013
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loved ship fever and this is a great companion volume, andrea barrett is a polished literary performer in both texts
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4 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Erudite, romantic and suspenseful, 29 Oct 1999
By A Customer
This is a wonderfully absorbing read - erudite, romantic, suspenseful and thought-provoking. Barrett writes beautifully and her characterisation in particular is superb. She captures the highs and lows of the fateful eponymous voyage and then examines its aftermath in satisfyingly convincing style. Thoroughly enjoyable on several levels.
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3 of 7 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars An historical tale set in the Arctic / E Coast US in 19th Century, 28 Dec 2006
By 
Ixi Books "ixi_books" (UK) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: The Voyage of the Narwhal (Paperback)
Having read many true accounts of arctic adventures I thought I read some arctic fiction. The historical references seem to be correct. However the story is not one of heroism and neither is it uplifting in any way. It is the account in the life of an analytical academic who's seen the world but lives purely within his own small world. He let's life happen to him and suffers the consequent misery. It has a touch of the Jane Austen about it with unrequited love and full skirts etc. but also has the odd clumsily written sordid paragraph which would have been best left out.
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The Voyage of the Narwhal
The Voyage of the Narwhal by Andrea Barrett (Paperback - 6 Mar 2000)
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