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The Crack Magazine

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Whale Fall by Elizabeth O’Connor

The milieu of Elizabeth O’Connor’s debut novel put me in mind of the one evoked by director Michael Powell in his 1937 film ‘The Edge of the World’. Powell’s film concerned itself with the depopulation of the Scottish archipelago of St Kilda as the younger generation began to leave the island. O’Connor’s novel, meanwhile, is set on a fictional island off the coast of Wales, but it too is a place that is home to a lifestyle in slow decline. It’s 1938 and Manod, a young woman, has just turned eighteen. She lives with her fisherman father Tad, younger sister Llinos, and a dog – her mother having died a few years earlier. Tad wonders if Manod has considered any potential suitors on the island, but Manod has designs on a different life for herself. These designs are brought into sharper focus when an English pair, Rose and Edward, come to stay on the island with the intention of documenting a lifestyle that’s on its way out. O’Connor’s prose is uncluttered, with readers spared any overblown flights of fancy. Nevertheless her words carry real weight as she gives us a sense of the island as it moves through the seasons. She also conjures up a mood of things on the cusp: adulthood, the end of a community, and, given the time it’s set, war. It’s also a period when competing ideologies froth and broil against each other, and O’Connor captures all this, and more, in the subtlest of shades. RM