Books: The Voyage Of The Narwhal

Andrea Barrett

As she did in her stunning book Ship Fever, a collection of moody historical meditations cast as short stories, the author of this powerful, brooding novel sets up camp in the mid-19th century and forages for the bones of fiction. She picks an obsession--the search in the high Arctic for a northwest passage to the Pacific--that now seems bizarre. Ships were crushed. Men died of scurvy, watched by healthy Inuit tribesmen who were scorned as beasts. Ill-fated expeditions followed, intent on rescue, science or glory. One of these is Barrett's stage, on which two sharply opposed men, a bookish naturalist and...

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