Andrea Barrett

Breathes with a contemporary urgency, an exhilarating adventure novel… A genuine page-turner that long lingers in the mind.”

— Chicago Tribune

The Voyage of the Narwhal

A Novel

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.

Praise for The Voyage of the Narwhal

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.”


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)

Breathes with a contemporary urgency, an exhilarating adventure novel…A genuine page turner that long lingers in the mind.”

— Philip Graham, Chicago Tribune

Breathtaking…exquisitely written in every way…fully worthy of the massive, dangerous subject it undertakes.”

Cleveland Plain Dealer

[B]oth cunningly cerebral and hair-raisingly visceral.… This is an astonishingly good book by a writer we must declare as major.”


This novel takes off over the sea, straight out of history and into tragedy.… We get to luxuriate in the promise of retribution and in finely calibrated, persuasive prose.”

The New Yorker

A wonderful book in the truest sense of the word — wonder-filled.”

USA Today

Stunning…Barrett shows the arrogance and delusion that drove the age of exploration better than any nonfiction book could.”

Ft. Lauderdale Sun-Times