Fathoms: The World in the Whale goes deep

Book Review: Exploring whales and everything inside them, Rebecca Giggs is an assured new voice in narrative non-fiction

“Blue whales are creatures so large that, when they exhale, rainbows can form,” writes Rebecca Giggs.

“Blue whales are creatures so large that, when they exhale, rainbows can form,” writes Rebecca Giggs.

I took a while to read Fathoms: The World in the Whale, the debut of Australian writer Rebecca Giggs. Owing that its European publication date was pushed back due to the disparate realities of coronavirus, I’ve had my advance copy for some time. I’m glad to have been able to read it this way, to take time with the whales and everything inside them, to allow all that this is to settle: broken polythene greenhouses, giant intestinal worms and human moral reckonings.

The question that the book poses concerns more than just whales. It is demonstrative of the fact that within the whale, both archetype and, painfully, the material bodies of actual whales, is matter with which to divine the whole world. This book is an act of divination: Giggs reads the debris as tea leaves. The question asked of them is: “How should I care for that which I do not know, that which I have never met?”

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