Longlisted for the Walter Scott Prize for Historical Fiction 2019

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...

Gives the genre of Heart of Darkness and Moby-Dick 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.

Dark Water Reviews

What people are saying


“A compelling combination of gothic mystery, psychological thriller and study of the shifting nature of truth”

The Sunday Times, Historical Fiction Critic’s Choice

“Hugely enjoyable”

“An ambitious and hugely enjoyable historical novel, full of literary echoes but with a voice all its own”

The New Statesman, Best Books of 2018

“Emotionally engaging”

“Immensely enjoyable… A psychologically complex and emotionally engaging story of misdirected love, and of a variety of hungers… It asks big questions”

The Guardian, Book of the Day


“Superb… Dark Water is that rare find – a literary novel with a plot that unfolds with pace”

The Times, Historical Fiction Book of the Month

“A treat”

“This is a dark, intelligent treat”

The Times, Historical Fiction Books of the Year

“Beautifully written”

“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”

The Daily Mail

“Sinister beyond belief”

“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


“An irresistible peek into the unknown… Lowry’s elegant prose depicts mid-19th century America as a world in which the rational and the inexplicable uneasily coexist”

The Observer


“A piercing examination of themes of madness and memory, guilt and expiation… As magnetic as our fascination with the sea itself”

Andrew Caldecott


“Endless ocean, submerged memories and the depths of the human mind are deployed to great effect in this claustrophobic, pitch-perfect gothic novel”

The Sunday Express

“Superior thriller”

“A superbly entertaining historical novel… A superior thriller, cleverly conceived and elegantly written”

The Saturday Paper, Melbourne

“Powerful page-turner”

“Remarkable, powerful, at once realist and heightened, gothic, mythic, with sudden flashes of humour. It is a page-turner, a powerful reinvigoration of the historical novel”

Andrew Greig

“Compulsive reading”

“Full of transporting period detail, this immersion in the agonised workings of an invidious mind makes for squirmy, compulsive reading”

London Metro


“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

“Snap of suspense”

“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 regularly demand to be savoured”

The Wall Street Journal


“Artful and tantalizing… Movingly drawn… Masterful in depictions of the female characters, particularly Carver’s brilliantly imagined sister”

The Times Literary Supplement


“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”

The Irish Times

Dark Water Extract

Boston, 1833

I date my professional interest in what I call the dark water, or submerged aspect of the human mind, to an incident that befell me as assistant surgeon of USS Orbis in 1833, shortly before I came to work at the asylum.

This was when I first got to know William Borden.