The Surfacing

384 pages

Trade Paper

List Price US $16.95
ISBN: 9781934137925


ISBN: 9781934137932

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“The great topic of Cormac James’ The Surfacing is the reach of human possibility. The prose is calm, vivid, hypnotic, and acutely piercing. . . . This is a book about fatherhood and all its attendant terrors. James recognizes the surfacing of love in the face of solitude. It’s a remarkable achievement, a stylish novel, full of music and quiet control.”

Colum McCann, author of Let the Great World Spin and Transatlantic

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“Gratifyingly defies expectations.”

New York Times Book Review

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“[A] harrowing Arctic adventure.”

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“A stunning historical novel. . . . A chiseled, cool work of poetic brilliance. . . . A mesmerizing novel about never-ending ice, bitter cold, shipwrecks and fatherhood.”

Shelf Awareness for Readers

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“A slow-burning psychological study. . . . Underneath all the ice, there is real emotional depth.”

Kirkus Reviews

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“James’s sharp prose and attention to detail . . . leaves a lasting impression of this momentous journey.”

Publishers Weekly

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The Surfacing is a rare blend of adventure narrative and literary fiction, survival story and philosophical musing. . . . What emerges is a pure and transcendent vision of the joy of fatherhood—and the joy of learning to trust another person in the face of a future that may hold nothing but ice and darkness.”

Historical Novels Review

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“Hauntingly beautiful.”

Best New Fiction

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“James uses the sublime appeal of the Arctic and the extreme situation of his characters as the stage for an essentially domestic psychological novel. The Surfacing is about how people live together and how we rise to the occasion of pregnancy and birth. . . . This is a book for grownups. . . . The expedition, after all, is just a metaphor; the Impetus a ship of fools, the protagonist, Morgan, an Odysseus who’s not going anywhere. . . . . The prose matches the landscape, rigorously unadorned, returning the gaze of a reader led into a world without hiding places.”


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“Although [The Surfacing] initially appears to focus on the unwinnable crusade of man against nature, at its centre is a love story—not a romance between adults but between a father and the son he learns to love. . . . A moving reminder that some of the biggest journeys in life don’t involve going anywhere at all.”

Financial Times

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“As much Jack London as Daniel Woodrell. . . . James cleverly fashions a tense, controlled work that is bolstered by weighty research.”

Irish Examiner

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“Superb. . . . [The Surfacing] is told in lean, cool, poetic prose and is utterly compelling.”

Scotland Sunday Herald

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“Highly original and poetic. . . . Writers as diverse as Homer, Conrad, Melville and William Golding have led the way and James picks up the baton—or oar—wielding it with great skill. . . . The writing sparkles with inventiveness. . . . Scenes break as turmoil calls all hands to deck in a battle for survival, offering an intense experience for the reader.”

John Boyne, Irish Times

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“There’s nothing like the reading buzz you get when a new book by an unfamiliar name grabs you and doesn’t let go. . . . The cool precision of James’s writing draws you on as surely as if you’re there, trapped in that claustrophobic interior with the vast northern landscape stretching forever outside.”

Arminta Wallace, Irish Times

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“James’s haunting novel memorably captures the desolate landscape and the triumph of the human spirit in adversity.”

Mail on Sunday

“Engrossing. . . . It is James’ willingness to break free from the limitations of the traditional Arctic tale that takes the novel beyond the genre and widens its appeal. It allows the novel to venture far beyond the expedition narrative and delve into issues of fatherhood and responsibility, bringing all the complexities of the crew’s life back home under the blinding glare and unforgiving scrutiny of the Arctic sun. Beneath the surface of this expedition story, as with the stark ice-scape of the Arctic, it is in fact teeming with life.”

Irish Independent

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“Poetic and dramatic.”

ABC Radio National’s The Book Show

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“James has clearly felt the aesthetic need to sound out the gap between the extant sources of such expeditions and the way polar regions and the first men who tackled them remain almost mystically out of reach of the 21st-century mind. . . . The further the journey goes on the more we are willing as readers to kedge our way through his rendition of a madly ambitious, environmentally magnetic but inhospitable world.”


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“There are unforgettable descriptions of the creaking, shifting, endless ice, and the contrast with the warmth of a growing new life is very well done.”

London Times

“[The Surfacing] achieves a hard-won emotional punch in its descriptions of Morgan falling in love with his son, and finally understanding the point of life as he faces death. . . . A difficult but rewarding read.”

Gutter magazine

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“A nuanced meditation on fatherhood and, along the way, there are some terrific portrayals of life aboard ship in the mid-19th century. . . . 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.”

Geographical Magazine

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“An extraordinary novel, combining a powerful narrative with a considered and poetic use of language. . . . Reading the book, I recalled the dramatic natural landscape of Jack London and the wild untamed seas of William Golding. Cormac James’ writing is ambitious enough to be compared with either.”

John Boyne, author of The Boy in the Striped Pajamas and A History of Loneliness

“Cormac James’ writing is very assured, with a harsh poetic edge. His evocations of barren landscape, sea weather, pack ice, and frozen skies are powerful and compelling.”

Rose Tremain, author of Music & Silence and Merivel: A Man of His Time

“I read The Surfacing in Gjoa Haven, where Franklin Expedition spirits seem to cry out on the winter winds, and Cormac James’ writing spoke through the midday twilight with the chill of a voice from the distant past. Like the High Arctic world that he masterfully conjures, his storytelling is beautifully stark and captivating. The Surfacing lures with the tundra’s promise: new life can come from death.”

Paul Watson, Arctic correspondent for the Toronto Star, and author of Where War Lives

Far from civilization, on the hunt for Sir John Franklin’s recently lost Northwest Passage expedition, Lieutenant Morgan and his crew find themselves trapped in ever-hardening Arctic ice that threatens to break apart their ship. When Morgan realizes that a stowaway will give birth to his child in the frozen wilderness, he finds new clarity and courage to lead his men across a bleak expanse as shifting, stubborn, and treacherous as human nature itself.

A harrowing tale of psychological fortitude against impossible odds, The Surfacing is also a beautifully told story of one man’s transformative journey toward fatherhood. “Fresh Pick for Your Fall Book-Club Meeting”

Excerpt from The Surfacing recommends Cormac James’ “harrowing Arctic adventure” The Surfacing for book clubs and we have a terrific reading group guide to help get the conversation started.

Cormac James talks about The Surfacing with the Irish Examiner, shares his favorite books and authors with the Irish Times, and tells the Scotland Sunday Herald why he uses the pen name “Cormac James.”

Cormac James writes about the story behind The Surfacing at the Irish Times.

Cormac James discusses The Surfacing on ABC Radio National’s The Book Show.

Listen to a dramatic reading from The Surfacing, author interview, and audio interpretation by Bernard Clarke on Lyric fm’s Nova.