The Whalebone Theatre
The instant Sunday Times bestseller
'One of the books both Her Majesty and I love ... The Whalebone Theatre stirs the imagination and takes you to a magical place' JENNA BUSH-HAGER
***A JOINT BOOK CLUB PICK FROM THE QUEEN CONSORT'S READING ROOM AND READ WITH JENNA***
'An absolute treat of a book, to be read and reread' Sunday Times
'Destined to become a classic ... Elegantly written and totally immersive, Quinn's debut is a wonder' Daily Mail
'One of those big chunky stories that swallows you whole - and it's beautifully written too' The Times
'Maudie, why are all the best characters men?'
Maudie closes the book with a clllump. 'We haven't read all the books yet, Miss Cristabel. I can't believe that every story is the same'
Cristabel Seagrave has always wanted her life to be a story, but there are no girls in the books in her dusty family library. For an unwanted orphan who grows into an unmarriageable young woman, there is no place at all for her in a traditional English manor.
But from the day that a whale washes up on the beach at the Chilcombe estate in Dorset, and twelve-year-old Cristabel plants her flag and claims it as her own, she is determined to do things differently.
With her step-parents blithely distracted by their endless party guests, Cristabel and her siblings, Flossie and Digby, scratch together an education from the plays they read in their freezing attic, drunken conversations eavesdropped through oak-panelled doors, and the esoteric lessons of Maudie their maid.
But as the children grow to adulthood and war approaches, jolting their lives on to very different tracks, it becomes clear that the roles they are expected to play are no longer those they want. As they find themselves drawn into the conflict, they must each find a way to write their own story...
'A book that will be loved unreasonably and life-long' Francis Spufford, author of Light Perpetual
'Utterly captivating ... Written with great heart, humour and humanity, it's the kind of book you want to escape normal life to read at every available opportunity' Elizabeth Day, author of Magpie
'The Whalebone Theatre has all the makings of a classic ... A wonderful debut. Actually, a tour de force' Sarah Winman, author of Still Life
The emotional upheaval of the interwar years in England is dramatized afresh in Quinn's dazzling and imaginative debut. Cristabel Seagrave's mother dies in childbirth, and Cristabel's father, Jasper, who remarries when she is three, dies soon after. This leaves Cristabel to be raised by her disinterested stepmother, Rosalind, who then marries Cristabel's aviation-obsessed uncle Willoughby, Jasper's brother. In 1928, when Cristabel is 12, she discovers a dead whale washed up on the beach adjoining the decaying Seagrave estate. She turns the whale's rib cage into the proscenium for a theatre, where she ambitiously stages The Iliad and The Tempest with the help of her half sister Flossie, cousin Digby, loyal kitchen maid Maudie Kitkat, and Taras Kovalsky, a Russian artist. Fourteen years later, Cristabel and Digby's experiences at playacting will come in handy when they are both parachuted into France on separate espionage missions to help the Resistance during WWII. But will they survive to see the renaissance of the Whalebone Theatre? Thorny, idiosyncratic Cristabel is a formidable first among equals in this expansive cast of memorable eccentrics. Peacetime whimsy gracefully segues into scenes of unbearable tension and heart-wrenching suspense as Cristabel boldly infiltrates Paris on the eve of its liberation. Combining elements of I Capture the Castle, Brideshead Revisited, and Charlotte Gray, this is a reading experience to be long cherished.