The HMS Impetus wades into the arctic in search of John Franklin’s lost expedition of 1845. While en route it is discovered that Kitty Rink, a female stow away, is pregnant with Morgan, the second in command’s, child. After a troubled start the ship gets stuck for 18 months and from there unfolds tension and desperation.
The restricted geography of the barren environment and the ship’s hull leaves as the only recourse for movement the temporal. Structured around dates, James replicates the strain of the voyage and moves inwards for psychological drama. It is not an easy novel to read, but not because of dense, obscure references or impenetrable language. Instead the hardboiled journal format leaves the reader fatigued from the fractured repetition. This repetition is not soothing or comforting. It is jarring, unsettling, creaking, and the narrative progresses slowly like the ship jerking in the hard Arctic Sea.
Strenuous and demanding, The Surfacing is as mentally and corporeally unrelenting as the events it depicts.