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Fathoms: The world in the whale (Rebecca Giggs, Scribe)

Rebecca Giggs’ nonfiction debut is a lyrical, wide-ranging meditation on whales and their complex relationship with humanity. Meticulously researched and full of fascinating information, Fathoms is not just limited to cetaceans—for Giggs, the topic of whales is a catalyst for exploring climate change and man’s impact on the planet, as well as broader ideas such as nature’s influence on morality. A meld of genres including science reportage and memoir, the book also includes a meta-narrative of sorts, with Giggs not just relaying her own formative experiences with whales in the past—visiting the blue whale skeleton at the Western Australian Museum as child, witnessing futile efforts to save a beached whale—but also documenting the process of writing. As she embarks on a whale watching trip off the coast of New South Wales and travels to Japan to research scientific whaling, Giggs works through her own thoughts on eco-tourism, anthropomorphism and eating animals. The writing is evocative and beautiful in parts, the prologue (previously published in Granta) especially stunning: in majestic detail she describes the slow scientific process of a whale carcass falling to the ocean floor. In other places, however, Giggs seems to lose her grip on language, with some unwieldy descriptive passages bordering on overwrought. By no means a polemic, the contemplative pace and carefully crafted imagery of Fathoms are a deliberate appeal to readers to slow down and consider the world around them.

Kelsey Oldham is an editor at Books+Publishing


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