THE SURFACING by Cormac James

  • Written by  Jon Wright
  • Published in Books
THE SURFACING by Cormac James
01 Mar
2015
It is 1850 and Lieutenant Morgan finds himself in chilly, frequently frozen, northern waters. His ship, the Impetus, of which he is second-in-command, is searching for traces of the Franklin expedition to the Northwest Passage

Morgan is not in a terribly good mood and thinks back fondly to the previous year when he was enjoying the ‘liquid jade’ of the Aegean. The last thing he needs is an unwelcome complication, but there is a pregnant female stowaway and Morgan is the father of the unborn child.

At first, he worries about fulfilling his responsibilities: ‘taking care of himself already felt an endless chore’. But then the babe is born. It ‘looked like a mass of liver smeared in something like buttermilk’, but it also awakened something in Morgan. There was a chance to be adored and ‘for the first time in a long time, he heard a call to his better self.’ Fear not. There is nothing of the soap opera. It is a nuanced meditation on fatherhood and, along the way, there are some terrific portrayals of life aboard ship in the mid-19th century. Dogs eat minced seal fish, the gales are ‘lunatic’ and the snow is ‘tragic.’ The human beings veer between despair and courage. Letters arrive with news from home of ‘censure’, ‘silence’ and ‘death’ but when the weather improves the crew are ‘sailors again’ with ‘canvas bragging overhead’.

This is a historical novel where the subject matter is almost incidental – though James has clearly done his research. The joy is in the prose, lyrical but not overblown, and the winningly straightforward plot. There’s also every chance that you’ll be tempted to turn up the thermostat while reading. James does a splendid job of portraying the icy landscapes, all the way up to the 76th Parallel.

THE SURFACING by Cormac James, Sandstone Press, £8.99 (pb)

This review was published in the March 2015 edition of Geographical Magazine

Geographical Week

Get the best of Geographical delivered straight to your inbox every Friday.

Subscribe Today

EDUCATION PARTNERS

Aberystwyth University University of Greenwich The University of Winchester

TRAVEL PARTNERS

Ponant

Silversea

Travel the Unknown

DOSSIERS

Like longer reads? Try our in-depth dossiers that provide a comprehensive view of each topic

  • National Clean Air Day
    For National Clean Air Day, Geographical brings together stories about air pollution and the kind of solutions needed to tackle it ...
    The Air That We Breathe
    Cities the world over are struggling to improve air quality as scandals surrounding diesel car emissions come to light and the huge health costs of po...
    Diabetes: The World at Risk
    Diabetes is often thought of as a ‘western’ problem, one linked to the developed world’s overindulgence in fatty foods and chronic lack of physi...
    The Nuclear Power Struggle
    The UK appears to be embracing nuclear, a huge U-turn on government policy from just two years ago. Yet this seems to be going against the grain globa...
    Hung out to dry
    Wetlands are vital storehouses of biodiversity and important bulwarks against the effects of climate change, while also providing livelihoods for mill...

MORE DOSSIERS

NEVER MISS A STORY - follow Geographical

Want to stay up to date with breaking Geographical stories? Join the thousands following us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram and stay informed about the world.

More articles in REVIEWS...

Books

by Robin Hanbury-Tenison •  IB Tauris •  £17.99 (hardback)

Books

by Daniel Schwartz •  Thames & Hudson •  £40 (hardback)

Books

by Nigel Hughes •  £25 (hardback)

Books

by Caitlin Doughty •  Weidenfeld & Nicolson •  £14.99/£7.99 (hardback/eBook)

Reviews

Directed by Ivo Van Hove •  National Theatre

Books

by Norman Davies •  Allen Lane •  £30 (hardback)

Exhibitions

This intimate east London exhibition provides a multi-sensory exploration into…

Books

by Kiyonori Kanasaka (translated by Nicholas Pertwee) • Renaissance Books…

Books

by Steven Price Brown • Bloomsbury • £16.99 (hardback/eBook)

Books

by Jo Woolf • Sandstone Press • £24.99 (hardback)

Films

An epic journey through the Amazon in a traditional dugout…

Books

by Victor Mallet • Oxford University Press • £20 (hardback/eBook)

Books

Get 30% off the cover price of this in-depth journey…

Exhibitions

Twenty one years, sixteen countries, seven continents... RGS-IBG director, Rita…

Books

by Peter Millar • Arcadia Books • £20 (hardback)

Books

by the National Archives • £25/£21.99 (hardback/eBook)

Books

by Leon McCarron • IB Tauris • £17.99 (hardback)