Whale Fall: A Novel (Hardcover)

Whale Fall: A Novel By Elizabeth O'Connor Cover Image

Whale Fall: A Novel (Hardcover)


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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

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

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

"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. I felt the salt stinging my cheeks, smelled the smoke from the fires, and more than anything, Manod's hope and longing and fight rooted within me too. It's a triumph; Elizabeth should be so proud."
—Elizabeth Macneal, author of The Doll Factory and Circus of Wonders

"I devoured the exquisite Whale Fall by Elizabeth O’Connor. Immersive, elegiac and silvered with salt, it follows a young woman, Manod, and what happens when two anthropologists arrive to study the isolated island community she calls home. Beautiful."
—Lizzie Pook, author of Moonlight and The Pearler's Daughter

“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. A novel with such presence, both wild and still: utterly exquisite"
—Imogen Hermes Gowar, author of The Mermaid and Mrs. Hancock

"[A] luminous first novel...Literary voyagers looking for new worlds should add this to their itinerary."
—Publishers Weekly (starred review)

"O'Connor's precise and spare prose feels...full of possibility, while emulating the interior of her yearning protagonist. A notable debut imbued with the pain of buried promise"
—Booklist (starred review)

"O’Connor prompts us to consider what it is to experience ourselves—and our cultures—through strangers’ eyes. A beautiful meditation on the profound effects of seeing and being seen."
—Kirkus Reviews