Whale Fall: A Novel

Whale Fall: A Novel

Unabridged — 3 hours, 50 minutes

Whale Fall: A Novel

Whale Fall: A Novel

Unabridged — 3 hours, 50 minutes

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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

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.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

★ 03/25/2024

In this luminous first novel, an isolated community of 12 families encounters a pair of outsiders on their small island off the coast of Wales in 1938. Manod, 18, lives with her lobsterman father and younger sister and sees a circumscribed future for herself on the remote and rugged island. Then a dead whale washes up on the beach. This incident is immediately followed by the arrival of an English couple, Edward and Joan, anthropologists from Oxford who have come to the island to study its inhabitants for an ethnographic paper they plan to coauthor. Manod demonstrates her ambition and intelligence to the couple, and they ask her to serve as their secretary and translator, given that few others in the community speak English. As the villagers are drawn by curiosity to the whale, which becomes a site of children’s play and a shrine to the decomposing beast, Manod falls under Joan’s spell for one reason and Edward’s for another, leading her to make some hard decisions about the life she ultimately wants to lead. The simplicity of the island folk and their daily existence is mirrored in the deceptive plainness of O’Connor’s prose and in Manod’s crystal-clear gaze. Literary voyagers looking for new worlds should add this to their itinerary. Agent: Matthew Marland, RCW Literary. (May)

From the Publisher

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."

"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

"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. 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. 

Kirkus Reviews

O’Connor’s debut novel is set in 1938 on a remote island off the coast of Wales and centers Manod, an 18-year-old who has lived there her entire life.

With her fisherman father, Tad, offbeat younger sister, Llinos, and beloved dog, Elis, Manod battles the elements on the rocky outcrop to survive. Following the untimely death of their mother years prior, she feels responsible for Llinos’ upbringing. O’Connor is careful not to romanticize the island, depicting the harsh living conditions in graphic prose: “The wind makes red meat of us.” Alongside the news of increased political tension in Europe, a beached whale captivates the small, tightknit community, which is becoming increasingly conscious of its isolation. That so many families have abandoned the island for the mainland, leaving “more empty houses on the island than inhabited ones,” increases that sense of dislocation. When English ethnographers Edward and Joan arrive to document the islanders’ way of life, they enlist Manod to provide her unique insight into the project, and she begins to wonder if an academic career might provide an escape preferable to marriage. This renewed sense of possibility and appreciation for her home—“I had never looked closely at the island. I had never thought it was interesting, or beautiful”—coincides with a sensual awakening. Where her sexuality before the arrival of the scholars might appear modern—she has sex with a local boy without shame—it’s strikingly passive: “saying yes to him, kissing him, other things, made me feel slightly less peculiar than I did.” Appraising the island and herself through an outsider’s gaze seems to awaken Manod’s senses, making her acutely aware of her body and desire. As the academics set about documenting the traditions, folklores, and lifestyles of the islanders, Manod’s sense of otherness increases—with the pair exoticizing the islanders to such a degree that their research is utterly compromised. 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.

Product Details

BN ID: 2940159609724
Publisher: Penguin Random House
Publication date: 05/07/2024
Edition description: Unabridged
Sales rank: 532,439
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