Wednesday, May 07, 2008
The Voyage of the Narwhal by Andrea Barrett
This book has sat on my shelf for several years. I thought 15, but when I finally opened it to read, I saw that it was published in 1998. Still, that's a long time to keep an unread novel around. When I decided to attempt Callapidder Days' Spring Reading Thing, I thought it was a good time to haul this out and read it, or not - and if not, move it along.
Well, I am so glad I finally read it, and wish I had done sooner. But, it was timely: set, at the beginning, in Philadelphia, if I'd read it while living in Oregon the place names Conshohocken, Skippack, and Fairmount Park would have been meaningless to me. I'd not have known about Elisha Kent Kane, a 19th century Arctic explorer, with whom I became acquainted during an impromptu visit to the museum of the American Philosophical Society in downtown Philadelphia.
But, you don't have to know where Skippack is to enjoy this novel. It's not a perfect novel. You can read lots of reviews on Amazon and elsewhere. But it is a big, satisfying story. Part adventure - Arctic exploration, part family story - with all the complexities that come with large family relationships, part love story. A story of dreams, realized and not. Bitter failure. Friendships formed and friendships broken by death and by betrayal. Beautifully written, with characters who can be annoying and make you say "why did you do that for, you idiot?" - just like real people. Ethical questions of exploration among unfamiliar, innocent people.
Now I'm in the mood for more Arctic exploration books. I've got The Endurance:Shackleton's Legendary Antarctic Expedition sitting next to me. (OK, Arctic, Antarctic - they're both cold.) Just today I read about Tuning the Rig, story of an Arctic journey. I've requested a book about Elisha Kent Kane from the library. I don't know how long I'll stay interested in Arctic exploration literature. This may be it for a while. Maybe I'll decide to read something else by Andrea Barrett. And, I have other books that have been waiting a long time to be read. Hm, like those books I said I'd read for the Spring Reading Thing. Oh well.