Cover image for Voyage to the North Star : a novel
Voyage to the North Star : a novel
Nichols, Peter, 1950-
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Publication Information:
New York : Carol & Graf, 1999.
Physical Description:
342 pages : map ; 24 cm
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America is marching headlong into the Depression. Unemployment is rife, Reds are protesting in New York's streets, but on the waterfront Prohibition has failed to water down the beer. The rich are meanwhile getting richer, and the poor only more destitute, in this powerfully wrought novel that crosses the paths of two men from opposite ends of the social spectrum. While the industrialist and sometime big-game hunter Carl Schenck has amassed a fortune fabulous enough to expect the world to cater to his whims, seaman Will Boden has lost his boat, his wife, and his reputation. Second chances don't come easily to a captain who's abandoned his own ship - until Schenck's determination to organize an Arctic safari presents Boden with the opportunity to do what no seasoned seaman would: to navigate a luxuriously appointed but ill-equipped yacht, the Lodestar, through perilous Polar waters. Its adventure as harrowing as a tale by Jack London, its vision as haunting as Joseph Conrad's, this remarkable novel pitches the master and crew of the Lodestar into the grip of treacherous Arctic seas and moral disaster. Praise for Sea Change by Peter Nichols: "Marvelous . . . In his understated telling of the story, he never seeks your sympathy. He just breaks your heart." - New York Times Book Review "A heartbreaking and harrowing sea tale" - Los Angeles Times

Author Notes

A Bristol-born former actor and schoolteacher, Peter Nichols was born on July 31, 1927. He got his start writing some 14 plays for television and has continued to write for that medium even since attaining success in the West End. A Day in the Death of Joe Egg, his first stage play, was produced in England in 1967 and on Broadway a year later. Joe Egg (as a squeamish American management insisted it be retitled) concerns a couple whose marriage is slowly being destroyed by their attempt to raise a hopelessly spastic daughter (Josephine, alias Joe Egg, their "living parsnip"). They survive in their situation as long as they do only by ceaselessly joking about it.

This comic distancing, as much as its autobiographical revelation, was to be the common characteristic of Nichols's later plays. Forget-Me-Not-Lane (1971), distinctly personal in its middle-aged re-examination of a World War II childhood, has characters stepping back and forth through time and in and out of the dramatic situation. In Passion Play (1981), Nichols's characters even break away from themselves, each partner in a bickering couple splitting into mutually critical components. The National Health (1969), produced to general acclaim at the National Theatre, achieves its distancing through the alternation of realistic scenes of suffering and dying in a hospital ward with episodes of an outrageous medical soap opera, Nurse Norton's Affair, shown on a simulated television screen. And in the ironic musical episodes of Privates on Parade (1977), the story of an army entertainment troupe in the 1950s, Nichols entered the area of alienating theatricalism explored by John Osborne's The Entertainer (1957) and Joan Littlewood's Oh, What a Lovely War. Privates, a Royal Shakespeare Company hit of 1977, has been made into a film, as have Joe Egg and The National Health. (Nichols also wrote the screenplay for the 1966 film satire Georgy Girl.)

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

It has been said that only a blue-water sailor really knows the sea--its feel, taste, and smell--and understands the love-hate relationship it has with those who test themselves and their craft far from shore. Nichols is one of those blue-water sailors, and fortunately, he is also able to put his feelings into words. But this gripping novel is more than a mere fictional recounting of a harrowing trip in the wrong ship. Set in the early stages of the Great Depression, it is the story of a disgraced sailor named Boden who has lost his ship, the wife he loves, and much of his will to go on. It is also the story of a too-rich, big-game-hunting industrialist determined to do the improbable his way. Through his main characters and a cast of well-drawn secondary figures, Nichols spins a powerful tale of hard times, no hope, high hopes, and misadventure, reminiscent at times of Jack London. Nichols' literary ship has definitely come in. --Budd Arthur

Publisher's Weekly Review

This is a first novel by the author of Sea Change, an account of his solo voyage across the Atlantic, and here, too, Nichols writes of the sea and ships with great feeling and accuracy. With his lean but telling style, he is as convincing on seafaring, navigation and weather as Hemingway is on big game hunting or bullfighting. His protagonist is Will Boden, a skilled seaman down on his luck in depression-era New York. In a moment of ill judgment, he once abandoned the ship he was captaining, and is now reduced to scraping a living, literally, on the waterfront. Along comes Carl Schenck, a wealthy industrialist who wants to ape his idol, Teddy Roosevelt, as a big game hunter, but fears it's all been done. He hits upon the notion to take the beautiful luxury yacht he has just acquired up into the Arctic to hunt for seal, bear, whatever he can find, and among the motley crew he assembles, including a skipper who is a fake British naval officer, is poor Will. Thus begins an adventure yarn alternately scary and hilarious, as Schenck takes ludicrous risks, the weather closes in and the ill-starred expedition begins to fall apart. Nichols shows an amazingly practiced hand for a fledgling novelist as he moves his large and vividly sketched cast through an ever more threatening series of disasters. The crowning event, brought on by Schenck himself, does stretch credulity, but otherwise the narrative tension is tight as a wire hawser, and Nichols's eye for the natural beauty and terrors of the icy North unerring. Only a rather perfunctory windup, which snatches dire defeat from the jaws of seeming victory, disappoints slightly. Still, this is an utterly gripping read, a tale that says a great deal about the mystique of men and the sea even as it entertains. (Nov.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

This immensely satisfying first novel from memoirist Nichols (Sea Change: Alone Across the Atlantic in a Wooden Boat) begins in 1932 with wacky big-game hunter Carl Schenck gung ho to kill "prodigious" animals in the grand manner of Teddy RooseveltÄeven if he has to mount an Arctic safari to do soÄand ends with a perilous struggle for survival in the far north. In between, Schenck, a man who seemingly can buy anything and anyone he wants, prepares for the expedition that will pit him against Will Boden, a former sea captain who has lost everything dear to himÄboat, wife, and reputationÄand hungers only for a second chance. Nichols spins a powerful story crammed with historical details and biting social commentary, awe-inspiring for its knowledge of ships and the sea, deft in its depiction of eccentric figures and harrowing events, and exhilarating for the quality of writing and the story's moral depth. A gripping novel of blood lust, human folly, and desperate hope in the tradition of Melville, Conrad, and Jack London; highly recommended for both public and academic libraries.ÄRonnie H. Terpening, Univ. of Arizona, Tucson (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.