Whale Fall: A Novel (Hardcover)

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Staff Reviews


Set off the coast of rural Wales in the 1930s, this debut novel by Elizabeth O'Connor is a quietly beautiful coming of age story.  A dead whale washes up on the coast of a a rural Welsh island, fascinating the locals and and attracting of the attention of two ethnographers from the mainland who come to the island to learn more about its inhabitants. Focused on 18 year old Manod and her family, the story follows their lives at this intersection as she becomes the translator for the researchers, Joan and Edward. Manod is a compelling character, full of dreams and possibility, despite the harsh life she lives in this remote place where men die young and women carry on. In a world where war is on the horizon and things are changing everywhere, Manod is put in a position of self examination as she sees herself and her island through from the outsiders perspective against her own. This is a great read for fans of quiet and thoughtful books, especially set in rural places.  —Rachel

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May 2024 Indie Next List


“A debut and a paean to the forgotten cultures on the British Isles. An intelligent yet innocent protagonist is confronted with ethnographers from the mainland, as class, gender, and education meet, while the prose mirrors island life.”
— Richard Dixon, Politics and Prose Bookstore, Washington, DC

Description


THE NEW YORK TIMES BOOK REVIEW EDITORS' CHOICE • A stunning debut from an award-winning writer, about loss, isolation, folklore, and the joy and dissonance of finding oneself by exploring life outside one’s community

“Both blunt and exquisite . . . O’Connor’s excellent debut . . .  is an example of precisely observed writing that makes a character’s specific existence glimmer with verisimilitude.”—New York Times Book Review

"Whale Fall is a powerful novel, written with a calm, luminous precision, each feeling rendered with chiseled care, the drama of island life unfolding with piercing emotional accuracy." —Colm Toibin, New York Times bestselling author of Long Island


In 1938, a dead whale washes up on the shores of remote Welsh island. For Manod, who has spent her whole life on the island, it feels like both a portent of doom and a symbol of what may lie beyond the island's shores. A young woman living with her father and her sister (to whom she has reluctantly but devotedly become a mother following the death of their own mother years prior), Manod can't shake her welling desire to explore life beyond the beautiful yet blisteringly harsh islands that her hardscrabble family has called home for generations.

The arrival of two English ethnographers who hope to study the island culture, then, feels like a boon to her—both a glimpse of life outside her community and a means of escape. The longer the ethnographers stay, the more she feels herself pulled towards them, reckoning with a sensual awakening inside herself, despite her misgivings that her community is being misconstrued and exoticized.

With shimmering prose tempered by sharp wit, Whale Fall tells the story of what happens when one person's ambitions threaten the fabric of a community, and what can happen when they are realized. O'Connor paints a portrait of a community and a woman on the precipice, forced to confront an outside world that seems to be closing in on them.

About the Author


ELIZABETH O'CONNOR lives in Birmingham. Her short stories have appeared in The White Review and Granta, and she was the 2020 winner of the White Review Short Story Prize. She holds a PhD in English Literature from the University of Birmingham, specializing in the modernist writer H.D. and her writing of coastal landscapes.

Praise For…


A New York Times Book Review Editors' Choice

“Both blunt and exquisite . . . O’Connor’s excellent debut . . .  is an example of precisely observed writing that makes a character’s specific existence glimmer with verisimilitude.”
New York Times Book Review

"Spare and bracing...O'Connor constructs her setting with precise, atmospheric detail that captures a world slowly being eroded....It all makes for a haunting and lucid exploration of the moments leading up to immense change."
NPR

“In Whale Fall, the landscape and its people speak together…By rejecting nostalgia but still foregrounding landscape, Whale Fall makes space for the more intimate, surreal ways that culture can relate to nature.”
The Nation


"Whale Fall is an astonishingly assured debut that straddles many polarities: love and loss, the familiar and the strange, trust and betrayal, land and sea, life and death. O’Connor has created a beguiling and beguiled narrator in Manod: I loved seeing the world through her eyes, and I didn’t want the novel to end"
—Maggie O'Farrell, New York Times bestselling author of The Marriage Portrait and Hamnet

"A haunting, unhurried, unusual debut...O’Connor offers a clear-eyed exploration of our tendency to fetishize the rural, the isolated, and what it means to become an object of study."
Joanna Quinn, New York Times bestselling author of The Whalebone Theater

"Whale Fall is a powerful novel, written with a calm, luminous precision, each feeling rendered with chiseled care, the drama of island life unfolding with piercing emotional accuracy"
—Colm Toibin, New York Times bestselling author of Brooklyn and The Magician

"O’Connor’s slim, powerful debut vibrates with elemental, immediate, and palpable scenes and descriptions...O’Connor’s spare, incisive prose brings the island to vivid life."
—Boston Globe

"These minimalist pages shimmer...What a testament to the capaciousness, generosity and emotional range of true art."
—Scientific American

"I absolutely adored Whale Fall. I fell completely under its spell: the quiet beauty of it, the mounting sense of loss, the subtle way that Elizabeth O'Connor handled the exploitation, betrayal and desecration of a small community. Every sentence rang with clarity and authenticity. It's a triumph."
—Elizabeth Macneal, author of The Doll Factory and Circus of Wonders

“Beautiful and restrained, Whale Fall moves like a tide, ebbing and flowing. A novel that matches the simplicity and timelessness of the classics of island literature, reminiscent of Tomás O’Crohan or Robin Flower, it is transporting and utterly beautiful.”
—Seán Hewitt, author of All Down Darkness Wide

"The quiet cadences of Whale Fall contain a deep melody of loss held and let go. It is a gentle, tough story about profound change."
—Anne Enright, Booker Prizewinning author of The Gathering

"Mesmerizing...Whale Fall is a rich and quietly compelling novel that vividly captures the community’s transformation. Entrancing descriptions illuminate the raw beauty of the island through seasonal changes. 
—Bookpage

“O’Connor manages to extract the fullest level of excitement, introspection and drama out of each detail of her perfectly crafted work…Manod’s adventures and musings take place in a perfectly rendered island, a castaway in her own hometown. If you love seafaring, island living and off-kilter ways of surviving, Whale Fall will not let you fetishize the place or the people. It’s too good of a book for that. Hidden in a historical setting, it gives the reader a heady mix of philosophy, coming of age, relationships, toxic masculinity and gossip while holding true to its hauntingly slow and suspenseful building of those details into a beautiful, bold cautionary tale. As a debut novelist, O’Connor must be celebrated for completely overhauling the elements she uses in her storytelling, which we have seen from the likes of Isabel Allende, Edith Wharton and Toni Morrison. The way that she uses the characters’ differences to bind them to each other is nothing less than heroic. Whale Fall is a wonderful novel to be savored for all of its beauty.”
—Bookreporter


Product Details
ISBN: 9780593700914
ISBN-10: 0593700910
Publisher: Pantheon
Publication Date: May 7th, 2024
Pages: 224
Language: English