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The Voyage of the Narwhal: A Novel Paperback – September 17, 1999
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Capturing a crucial moment in the history of exploration―the mid-nineteenth century romance with the Arctic―Andrea Barrett's compelling novel tells the story of a fateful expedition. Through the eyes of the ship's scholar-naturalist, Erasmus Darwin Wells, we encounter the Narwhal's crew, its commander, and the far-north culture of the Esquimaux. In counterpoint, we meet the women left behind in Philadelphia, explorers only in imagination. Together, those who travel and those who stay weave a web of myth and mystery, finally discovering what they had not sought, the secrets of their own hearts. 16 steel engravings and one map
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I knew little and had read even less about this fascinating era of exploration. This book has inspired me to search for more. I disagree with the criticisms of "weak characterizations:" I found the characters very intriguing. I learned to despise Zeke; side with Erasmus; and empathize with Alexa. The subordinate characters came across very well, also.
From a pure entertainment standpoint, I judge the success of a book based on whether or not I could visualize it on the big screen, and, if I could, would I enjoy it. Barrett painted a beautiful film with this book complete with breath-taking action and real live characters that I could see and feel.
The book was not a particularly enthralling read. The writing is in simple, rigidly-structured sentences. Very reminiscent, in fact, of Bram Stoker's _Dracula_. The author makes mention in her notes at the end of the book that the myriad "diary entries" and "letters" and "journal entries" are a historical point; that much history was recorded in such items. However, because of the extensive use of these tools, the book takes on a tangled third-person viewpoint which, while not particularly confusing, dilutes the book. Many characters are developed, their plights learned, and their struggles fleshed out, but only as much as the rest of the characters and the book suffers for it.
Additionally, the book is reviewed and portrayed as an adventure saga. In that regard, it is over within the first 250 pages. The book simply drags on... and on... and on.
I think this would be an appropriate high school sophomore text, but is clearly not a book for a sophisticated reader looking for stimulating entertainment.
Perhaps the abridged audiobook would be more fulfilling. I gave the book three stars because two was simply too harsh a rating.
fascinating. I found Barrett's style and imagery wonderful.
For example, Erasmus, a naturalist, loses his toes and
then compares walking on his shortened feet to the sensation
of walking like a deer on hooves.
The characters are described so well that they really
come alive. The science and geography are wonderfully
researched, and the story is so well told! Weeks later
I still find myself thinking about passages from this
book. The book is full of beautiful, insightful paragraphs
and a story self-discovery (from people of various cultures)
that I really enjoyed.