Voyage of the narwhal a novel by andrea barrett the human side of arctic explorationDocument Transcript
Voyage of the Narwhal: A Novel by Andrea Barrett The Human Side Of Arctic ExplorationIn Andrea Barretts extraordinary novel of Arctic and personal exploration,maps are deceitful, ice all-powerful, and reputation more important thantruth or human lives. When the Narwhal sets sail from Philadelphia in May1855, its ostensible goal is to find the crew of a long-vanished expedition--or at least their relics--and be home before winter. Of course, if the mencan chart new coasts and stock up on specimens en route, so much thebetter. And then theres the keen prospect of selling their story, fraughtwith danger and discovery, to a public thirsting for excitement. ZekeVoorhees, the Narwhals young commander, is so handsome that hemakes women stare and men hum with envy--perhaps not the bestqualification for his post--but he seems loved by all. Only his brother-in-law-to-be, a naturalist, quietly mistrusts him, though hes determined tostand by the youth for his sister Lavinias sake. At 40, eternal low-profilerErasmus Darwin Wells has one disastrous expedition behind him and ispraying for another scientific chance. He is, however, familiar with thephysical risks theyre taking, as well as the long stretches when nothing
happened except that ones ties to home were imperceptibly dissolved andone became a stranger to ones life. And what of the women left behind?Lavinia knows little of the dangers of ice (though shes well schooled inisolation) and lives only for Zekes return. Her companion, AlexandraCopeland, is less sanguine. Even after shes been given a secret careerbreak--ghosting for an ailing engraver--she knows how invisible she is andhow threatening her familys dense net of obligations will always be.Though they get less page time, Barrett is in fact as concerned with thesewomen as she is with her seafarers. Like the heroines of her NationalBook Award-winning Ship Fever, who bump up against science andhistory in which only mens triumphs are written, they must somehowescape social tyranny or retreat into the consolations of storytelling orsilence. There is tyranny on board the Narwhal as well, as Zekealternates between good will and paranoia, his closest companion anarctic fox he has civilized and who sits on his shoulder like a whiteepaulet. (Alas, Sabine, like many of the men, is not to survive the journey.)Encounters with the Esquimaux--who might know more about the lostexpedition than theyre willing to share--not having gone according to plan,Zeke determines in late August to head for Smith Sound rather thanhome, despite the crews protests. By mid-September, however, the craftis ice-locked, and its clear theyll have to winter over. At first the men makethe best of their situation, magically sculpting cottages, castles, palaces,even a whale--and offering informal seminars in butchery, Bible studies,and basic navigation. However, as the weather worsens and Zeke growsincreasingly despotic, morale plummets. Barrett excels in both physicaland social description, writing with a naturalists precision and apassionate imagination. With quick strokes (backed up by intenseresearch), she can fill us in on some sensible but threatening Esq uimauxfootgear: All five were dressed in fur jackets and breeches, with high bootsmade from the leg skins of white bears. The mens feet, Erasmus saw,were sheltered by the bears feet, with claws protruding like overgrownhuman toenails. Walking, the men left bear prints on the snow. The authoralso shines in panoramic scenes--her descriptions of the Arctic can onlybe called magnificent--and in small, precarious, personal moments. WhenErasmus eventually returns to Philadelphia, minus his toes and his futurebrother-in-law, a grieving Lavinia takes to her bed. Eventually, however,she relents: Lavinia stared straight ahead. Straight at Erasmus, her righthand tucked in her lap while her left turned a silver spoon back to front,front to back, the reflections melting, re-forming, and melting again....Lavinia said softly, I forgive you. Everyone knew she was speaking toErasmus. The Voyage of the Narwhal is full of blood-freezing surprises, ascore of indelible characters, and heart-stopping mysteries. As Erasmuswatches Alexandra draw landscapes he has seen before but missedsomething in, each pencil stroke is like a chisel held to a cleavage plane:tap, tap, and the rock split into two sharp pieces, the world cracked andspoke to him. Readers of Andrea Barretts novel will experience thissensation again and again. Packed with harsh truths about the not-always-true art of discovery, it is also among the most emotionallywrenching, subtle works of the century. --Kerry Fried
Personal Review: Voyage of the Narwhal: A Novel by AndreaBarrettEarly Arctic exploration has been a popular topic the last few years, as wecan warmly and safely look back in wonderment at the amazing courage,persistence, and discoveries of these men.But the histories focus on the adventurous aspects of the journey, not onthe organizational and human aspects of small groups of men in closequarters under harsh conditions for long periods of time. This work offiction goes there where the histories dont and cant in examining how themen thought about each other and interacted with each other.I have read some of the histories, and this book rings so true to their spiritthat I thought it was based on a true story. It works on all levels as history ,adventure, and a novel. For More 5 Star Customer Reviews and Lowest Price: Voyage of the Narwhal: A Novel by Andrea Barrett 5 Star Customer Reviews and Lowest Price!