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Whale Fall

A novel by

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.

Genre: Historical

Praise for this book

"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

"Mesmerizing. A novel with such presence, both wild and still: utterly exquisite." - Imogen Hermes Gowar

"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

"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

"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

"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

"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 Tóibín

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