We have updated our Privacy Policy Please take a moment to review it. By continuing to use this site, you agree to the terms of our updated Privacy Policy.

Dark Water

Paperback / ISBN-13: 9781786485649

Price: £10.99

Disclosure: If you buy products using the retailer buttons above, we may earn a commission from the retailers you visit.

Longlisted for the Walter Scott Prize for Historical Fiction

‘Eloquent, impressive . . . while her touch is witty, her manner almost buoyant, her themes are sinister beyond belief. She touches the frontiers of the human’ Hilary Mantel

Boston, 1833

Aboard the USS Orbis as it embarks from Boston and surges south to round Cape Horn, Hiram Carver takes up his first position as ship’s doctor. Callow and anxious among the seasoned sailors, he struggles in this brutal floating world until he meets William Borden.

Borden. The Hero of the Providence. A legend among sailors, his presence hypnotizes Carver, even before he hears the man’s story. Years before, Borden saved several men from mutiny and led them in a dinghy across the Pacific to safety.

Every ship faces terror from the deep. What happens on the Orbis binds Carver and Borden together forever. When Carver recovers, and takes up a role at Boston’s Asylum for the Insane, he will meet Borden again – broken, starving, overwhelmed by the madness that has shadowed him ever since he sailed on the Providence.

Carver devotes himself to Borden’s cure, sure it depends on drawing out the truth about that terrible voyage. But though he raises up monsters, they will not rest. So Carver must return once more to the edge of the sea and confront the man – and the myth – that lie in dark water.

Elizabeth Lowry’s gothic masterpiece, like Golden Hill and The Essex Serpent, gives the historical novel a new, beating heart. In Carver and Borden, she realizes the dichotomy of savagery and reason, of man and monster, of life and sacrifice, in a tale rich with adventure and glorious imagination.

What's Inside

Read More Read Less


Seldom has a ship and its metaphorical rigging sailed through the novel form to better effect. And it's seldom that a thoughtful, deeply-pondered novel makes you want to turn the pages so fast. Elizabeth Lowry's evocation of time and place - whether a Boston parlour or a ship's darkest hole - is warm and sure, and her characters, particularly the adamantine Borden, have a solid presence, but remain enigmatic at their core. She makes us realise how hard it is to know even one human being, no matter how long and privileged our acquaintance, or what ordeals we have shared. Her eloquent, impressive sentences often end in a way you don't predict, and while her touch is witty, her manner almost buoyant, her themes are sinister beyond belief. She touches the frontiers of the human, and balances there on the crest of a stylish wave.
Hilary Mantel
Remarkable, powerful, at once realist and heightened, gothic, mythic, with sudden flashes of humour. It is a page-turner, a powerful re-invigoration of the historical novel, weighted with multiple resonances of Moby Dick, Mutiny on the Bounty and The Ancient Mariner.
Andrew Greig
In Dark Water, Lowry questions the truth of reality and the reality of truth, merging melodrama with psychodrama, gothic horror with psychology. Mesmerizing.
Judith Flanders
Magnetic: beneath a sparkling surface the novel's dark undertow conducts a piercing examination of madness and memory, guilt and expiation
Andrew Caldecott, author of Rotherweird
*Book of the Month* Superb . . . that rare find - a literary novel with a plot that unfolds with pace
Antonia Senior, The Times, Book of the Month
Dark Water feels like a classic novel because of its strength. Its lasting impact. Not only is Lowry's mastery of prose sky-high, but her awareness of pace was enthralling. It was a delight and an adventure to read. This is a book I'd like to keep on my shelf, and return to when I'm in need of a reminder of the sheer force and power that good writing can muster.
Lewis Phillips
An irresistible peek into the unknown . . . Lowry's elegant and considered prose depicts mid-19th century America as a world in which the rational and the inexplicable uneasily coexist, and where the monstrous might be found within anyone, as well as outside.
Alexander Larman, Observer
A superbly entertaining historical novel . . . A superior thriller, cleverly conceived and elegantly written
Saturday Paper, Melbourne
This beautifully written, ambitious exploration of human motivation, lies, violence and the will to survive is terrific. Exciting, spiked with high gothic and clever characterisation, it chips away at our notions of insanity
Daily Mail
An unforgettable troupe of characters people this well-written, absorbing novel
Oxford Times
Elizabeth Lowry's gothic novel feels like a Moby-Dick for the modern age, a historical literary tale that's both sinister and intriguing . . . Complex and dramatic, Dark Water is a novel that will stick with you after it ends
Powerful in its imagery and terrifying in its acute observation of obsession, few novels probe the depths of memory, the mind and the unfathomable ocean itself as well as Elizabeth Lowry's Dark Water. 5 stars
A novel of deep perception about the human condition. This isn't just a book, this is literature
The story is engrossing, and Carver is in the useful position - for the protagonist of a historical novel - of seeking to pioneer processes we now take for granted, bringing him closer to our moment . . . We can identify with them
Jonathan McAloon, Irish Times
Immensely enjoyable . . . a psychologically complex and emotionally engaging story of misdirected love, and of a variety of hungers . . . Gigantic literary forebears stalk the background of this book: not only Melville and Dickens, but Shakespeare too . . . Dark Water is historical fiction with high literary ambitions . . . It asks big questions - who can claim with certainty to be sane? - and it is lent satisfying substance by Lowry's conjuration of a past society, complete with its prejudices and its cooking, its sturdily domestic architecture , its chilly domestic relationships and, above all, its particular forms of madness.
Lucy Hughes-Hallett, Guardian
A compelling combination of gothic mystery, psychological thriller and study of the shifting nature of truth, Dark Water proves worth a ten-year wait
Nick Rennison, The Sunday Times
Endless ocean, submerged memories and the depths of the human mind are deployed to great effect in this claustrophobic, pitch-perfect Gothic novel
Sunday Express
Artful and tantalising . . . Movingly drawn . . . Masterful in depictions of the female characters, particularly Carver's brilliantly imagined sister
Nell Stevens, Times Literary Supplement
Full of transporting period detail, this immersion in the agonised workings of an invidious mind makes for squirmy, compulsive reading.
Imogen Russell Williams, Metro
**BOOK OF THE YEAR** An ambitious and hugely enjoyable historical novel, full of literary echoes but with a voice all its own. Lowry plaits together a tale of mutiny and murder on the high seas with a sinister story of usurpation set in a 19th-century lunatic asylum. Hermann Melville mated with Wilkie Collins
Lucy Hughes-Halley, New Statesman
Questions swirl around this novel and lend its plot a snap of suspense. Part of the pleasure of "Dark Water" comes from its elevated language. With a poet's flair for the evocative detail . . . her sentences are often florid without feeling overdone, and regularly demand to be savored.
Emily Bobrow, Wall Street Journal