“For a fortunate few, war allows us to rise in ways that would otherwise be impossible. We can bring the very best of us to bear.”― Joanna Quinn, The Whalebone Theatre
Cristabel Seagrave loses her mother during childbirth, and her father, Jasper, who remarries when she is four, passes away shortly thereafter. This leaves Cristabel in the care of her disinterested stepmother, Rosalind, who later marries Jasper’s aviation-obsessed brother, Willoughby.
One stormy night in 1928, a whale washes up on the shores of the English Channel near Devon. By law, the whale belongs to the King, but twelve-year-old orphan Cristabel, along with her half-sister Flossie, cousin Digby, kitchen maid Maudie Kitcat, and a visiting Russian painter named Taras Kovalsky, transform the massive rib cage into a theater. They stage performances of The Iliad and various Shakespearean plays, gaining some notoriety in the process.
Fourteen years later, Cristabel and Digby’s experience in theatrical playacting becomes valuable when they are both airdropped into Nazi-occupied France on separate espionage missions to aid the Resistance during World War II.
The novel explores themes of love, family, bravery, and the loss of innocence, delivering an imaginative narrative. However, despite its 558-page length, the book failed to captivate me. I didn’t feel connected to the characters, except for the delightful portrayal of Christa as a young girl. It wasn’t one of those books I looked forward to reading at the end of the day, but I enjoyed it enough to give it 3.5 stars.