“Breathes with a contemporary urgency, an exhilarating adventure novel… A genuine page-turner that long lingers in the mind.” — Chicago Tribune
Capturing a crucial moment in the history of exploration, the mid-nineteenth century romance with the Arctic, Andrea Barrett focuses on a particular expedition and its accompanying scholar-naturalist, Erasmus Darwin Wells. Through his eyes, we meet the Narwhal’s crew and its commander—obsessed with the search for an open polar sea—and encounter the far-north culture of the Esquimaux. In counterpoint, we see 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. And finally they discover—as all explorers do—not what was always there and never needed discovering, but the state of their own souls.
“Like ‘Ship Fever,’ ‘Narwhal’ showcases Ms. Barrett’s gifts for extracting high drama from the complex world of science and natural history and for placing her characters in situations that reveal their fundamental natures.” — New York Times Book Review
“The intellectual range exhibited by this magnificent novel places its author in the rarefied company of great contemporary encyclopedic writers like Pynchon, Gaddis, and Harry Mulisch…. You feel she could do full justice to… whatever subject she chooses.” — Kirkus
“Barrett delivers a stunning novel in which a meticulous grasp of historical and natural detail, insight into character and pulse-pounding action are integrated into a dramatic adventure story with deep moral resonance.” — Publishers Weekly (starred review)