The Whalebone Theatre by Joanna Quinn is the first book in my list of 12 books recommended to me by my followers on social media. It’s a book that manages to weave the stories of three children who grew up pre-war in a slightly mixed family and who find safety and comfort in theatre, specifically a theatre they created themselves called the Whalebone Theatre.
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The Whalebone Theatre is told mostly through the narrative of our main heroine Cristabel Seagrave, however, there are chapters told from other characters’ point of view too to help build story, context and some background.
When she’s young, she and her siblings stumble across the remains of a whale on the beach and despite legally the whale’s carcass belonging to the king, she along with some of the house staff decide to build a theatre from the rib case of the whale. It allows her to break away from two parents who don’t particularly love her and escape into a world where her imagination is her only limit.
The Whalebone Theatre plot – 4.5/5
There’s something to be said for a said that manages to be over 500 pages long, span multiple decades, explore multiple characters and still have me interested throughout. Quinn’s writing style is so engaging and so thought-provoking. She’s always exploring the opinions and realisations of the characters as they grow older and their experiences are broadened out beyond their lives back at Chilcombe manor where they grew up.
Quinn isn’t afraid to have huge plot moments in The Whalebone Theatre either. I don’t want to give away any spoilers, but she’s more than happy to explore the deaths of some main characters to show the real sudden harshness of both death itself but also of the Second World War.
I came away from reading The Whalebone Theatre like I’d been on a real journey with our three main characters and those who join them along the way. Despite splitting up during the war to best serve their country, they’re always talking to and of one another, making them feel like a genuinely close set of siblings. This makes you want to read about them, not just do so because it expands the plot.
The Whalebone Theatre characters – 4.5/5
As I mentioned in my previous line, Quinn has managed to write some truly loveable characters here. Cristabel here starts off as an incredibly bright and kind girl who grows despite the lack of attention and care from her parents. The house staff all love Cristabel and are paternal and maternal to her in ways her parents just never seem to be. This then causes her to grow up to be a determined, intelligent woman during the war.
Flossie and Digby, the other two siblings, are both two very different people. Having grown up with two sisters, Digby is a kind and gentle man who, when called to support the war, isn’t keen to take up a front-line position which causes his peers some questions.
Then my favourite of all were Maudie and Taras. Maudie is a member of the kitchen staff who does more than her fair share of parenting for the three children and who throughout their lives is there to support them and offer them kindness and guidance. She truly is a saint and makes you wish for more chatacters like her in books.
The Whalebone Theatre final rating – 4.5/5
The Whalebone Theatre was a genuinely beautiful read. Not only was it wonderfully written but it featured a powerful storyline, impactful plot moments and deeply likeable characters. There’s a lot to be said for a book that can cover three decades, multiple characters and be over 500 pages and still keep you interested throughout.
I love books like The Whalebone Theatre where you feel like you’ve been on a life journey with the characters too. It’s staggering to think this was Quinn’s novel considering how composed and, at times, experienced it feels. I shall be adding Joanna Quinn to my list of authors of whom I will most definitely be picking up their next book.