by Murray Lee
Coming May 1, 2022.
Advance Reading Copies available for reviewers. Contact Us.
"I could not put down Murray Lee's Compass. It's not only that it is a highly literate, intelligent novel or that the story is riveting, but also the unstrained, steady humor, the easy erudition about the history of and conditions in the high Arctic and about survival there when lost that combine to make it such a compelling read. But most remarkable is the stunningly good writing, an effortless flow of language, word choices of startling precision and beauty. I thought of Salman Rushdie's prose, that gush of language that never misses, the fearless use of fantasy elaborating on and acting as a corrective to the hero's self-importance. Such a rare gift Lee has, a writer we'll be hearing of. Compass is a joy."
-- Sharon Butala, Author of This Strange Visible Air: Essays on Aging and the Writing Life (2021) and Season of Fury and Wonder: Short Stories (2020)
We can’t all be heroes. Some try and succeed. Others posture and pretend. And a few—just a few—set off on their hero’s quest only to discover that failure was within them all along.
Compass recounts the adventures of a man who, after traveling the world shilling stories for a major geographic magazine about historic expeditions and explorers, sets out on an adventure of his own—an ill-advised and poorly planned trip to the Arctic floe edge under the disorienting twenty-four-hour summer sun. When the ice breaks and his guide disappears, the narrator ends up alone and adrift in the hostile northern sea. He draws on his knowledge of historic expeditions to craft his own, inept, attempt at survival. As time passes and he becomes increasingly disoriented, his obsession with Sedna, the Inuit goddess of the sea, becomes terrifyingly real.
Part Life of Pi, part Into the Wild, Compass draws heavily on true historical adventures, Inuit mythology, and its Arctic setting. The narrator, a self-aware buffoon who remains nameless throughout, is both remarkably well-informed and entirely useless. He knows just enough to steer himself into the path of disaster—repeatedly, often comically, and ultimately tragically.
Pub Date: May 1, 2022
$17.95 trade paperback; ISBN: 978-1-7350273-8-8
$7.95 ebook; ISBN: 978-0-9979137-8-1
Distributors: Ingram, Baker & Taylor
About the Author
Murray Lee is a doctor and teacher of medicine, splitting his time between North and South, practicing as a fly-in physician for isolated communities in the Canadian Arctic and working with actors, clinicians, and students at the University of Calgary medical school. For over fifteen years he has served as the regular visiting doctor to Naujaat, Nunavut, a traditional Inuit community on the Arctic Circle, whose people, culture, and geography greatly inform the setting and character of Compass. This is his debut novel.
Cover painting reproduced with permission of Dorset Fine Arts:
Glittering Walrus, 2019
Etching, Aquatint and Hand Colouring
78 x 121 cm
Cover design by William Oleszczuk
EXCERPT: I trade in the tale of adventurers. Men, mostly white, all long-since dead. Ideally they are men who had the good form to die in extremis, after a suitably heroic battle between their indomitable will and nature’s merciless fury. An Arctic whaler locked in the ice. An ocean rower eaten by a shark. The Captain Ahabs. The Major Toms. Braggarts and boors, good riddance to them all. They can’t be trusted to tell their own tales.
As a general rule, survivors make shitty storytellers.
To be sure, I am capable of constructing a story out of a man’s full biography. I find, however, that those who have gone to great personal pain to escape society do not tend to function well when confined back to it. Sorting through the late-life misadventure typical of such characters—the marital discord, the mental breakdown, the bankruptcy—is more the job of the researcher I once was and not the storyteller I have become. Death in a whorehouse is a decent postscript for the hero of one of my tales. The years of despondency and alcoholism that preceded the climactic coronary are not. READ LONGER EXCERPT HERE