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Review of Whale Fall by Elizabeth O’Connor

Updated: Apr 8

Set on a fictional island off the coast of Wales we follow Manod, a young woman who is considering her future and how she wishes to shape her life. The islanders are occupied with a recently beached whale that has washed ashore, but everything is turned upside down when two mainlanders arrive on a boat to study the island’s people. So begins a tale of cultural comparison, self-understanding, love, anger and moral dilemma.

The presence of the mainlanders calls into question the power structures at play between those who consider themselves to be ‘learned’ and those who have not received such education. Is it right to extricate people’s homes and livelihoods for ‘research’, and as outsiders, how can the mainlanders truly understand and record the culture and lives of the people they are observing?

O’Connor tells Manod’s story from multiple character perspectives, allowing us to piece together a somewhat unsettling puzzle. Her use of language is incredibly exact, something I love, with not a single word gone to waste. I loved this book. Coming in at under 200 pages I read it in 24 hours and I was so sad when it ended. I’ve not read a story like it and I think O’Connor’s  voice is one we will see much more of. A triumph.

Reviewed by Helen.

Whale Fall will be published on 25/04/24 by Picador.


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