Saturday, December 12, 2020

Fathoms: the world in the whale

Image credit: Booktopia

So it seems that I’m on a bit of an oceanic theme with my choices of books in the last couple of weeks. First, it was Hemingway’s captivating tale of an unlucky fisherman who catches a monstrous marlin, and this week it has been a most creative and informative exploration into the world of whales and whales in the world. This week’s book was Rebecca Giggs’ Fathoms: the world in the whale.

A breathtaking and challenging piece of nonfiction, Fathoms begins with an anecdote about the author’s own encounter with a humpback whale beached on her local beach in Western Australia, and then polymorphs with each chapter into a different way in which humans connect with whales. 

Giggs blends natural history, biology, philosophy, science, and myth to explore the significance of whales in the natural world as well as the human one. How we are captivated and connected metaphorically, materially, poetically, and charismatically to creatures we still don’t know so much about. 

The book looks at whales as endangered species, as garbage warehouses, as fashion essentials, as food, as bio-diverse economies, as islands, and as popstars. And through her mixture of scientific and poetic prose, she delivers a challenging and wondrous reading experience. 

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Fathoms is one of those rare books that is illuminating, provocative, educational, and enlightening. But possibly what makes it so special is its sincere fascination with both the good and bad side of the whale-human relationship. While there are many chapters devoted to the horror that humankind has inflicted on whales and the environment they inhabit, Giggs does not travel down a preachy or aggressively opinionated path. Indeed, her final points are about hope and how there is still reason to have it, even though so much damage has already been done. 

While I initially found the book really hard to get into, once I embraced the poetic way in which she writes, as well as the creative perspectives she adopts in each and very chapter, I was completely swept up in Fathoms’ magic, like drifting with a tide. I would highly recommend this book. 

Author: Rebecca Giggs, 2020

Published: Scribe Publications (Victoria), 2020

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