Not a lot happens in The North Water, and at the same time an awful lot happens. Main character Sumner accepts a job on a whaler, travels to the North Water and returns while looking back on the reasons he had to leave India, where he was stationed in the army. Sumner’s story is also the story however of that person whose efforts to succeed fail, because ‘the powers that be’ make sure he cannot succeed. So he is faced with deception and disillusionment and becomes more and more aware of the glass ceiling society and the greed of the wealthy have placed between him and success. This time furthermore he is literally in danger of losing his life: his captain is supposed to shipwreck the whaler, in return for a nice share in the insurance. Surrounded by the scum of the whaling world Sumner drives away his deception with large quantities of opium. It is a true miracle he does manage to hang on to some semblance of humanity. Then the ship sinks (including all of the opium) and Sumner is faced with survival in the bitter cold. He is lucky and ends up at a missionary post where he is taken care of. He himself seems to have forsaken his humanity howeer. At the end of the novel one might only hope his hardships have caused mere physical injuries. The temperature in The North Water is literally and figuratively below zero. The beautiful descriptions of the stark nature strengthen the down-hill development of Sumner. The North Water is definitely not a cheery novel, on the contrary. You are not exactly left with the hallelujah-feeling that mankind is good. At the end of the novel survival has become a matter of sheer luck. I fear for the future of Sumner, Ian McGuire on the other hand could be in for a great career as a writer.