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The Whalebone Theatre: The instant Sunday Times bestseller

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Unfortunately, the second half of the novel dragged a bit. Nothing new about WWII that we haven’t already read was offered as the children grew into adults and the Second World War erupted. I couldn’t wait for them to return to Dorset, to reintroduce the funny and quirky moments the family antics presented. Yes, there ends up being tragedy, but for me, the ending fizzled more than it wrapped up. Quinn is an energetic narrative seamstress. Into her giant tapestry she stitches in letters, lists, scrapbook entries, dramatic dialogue, Maudie’s sexually adventuresome diary entries and the occasional piece of concrete poetry. All of this is lovely and unforced. The cottage on the Chilcombe property is described as “a house of flora and fauna; half consumed, half alive” (142). How does the estate grow and evolve over the course of the novel, alongside the human characters? What characteristics would you give this home, if you were to describe it as a person?

The arrival of the whalebones at Chilcombe is an event in and of itself. What is the significance of taking something that technically “belongs to the king” (197)? Did the transformation of the theatre into a garden during the war actually change anything about what the theatre is being used for by the family?Cristabel, Digby and Flossie all take on heroic roles in their own way during the war. How do you think their experience of acting in Shakespeare plays as children prepared them for these impactful roles? Which context --- theatre or life --- was more “real” to them? Consider the description of Paris as liberation begins: “It is like a carnival, with all its gaiety and danger. Nothing was happening and now anything might happen. All things are ending and beginning at once. Everything they have hoped for” (517).

If you love books with a strong sense of place, wonderful main characters (a cast of endearing siblings growing up in a large manor on the sea), echos of Joe March from Little Women, and a soothing ambience that makes you want to light candles and get under a 100 year old quilt, this book is for you. But far away from the big house, as the children grow to adulthood, another story has been unfolding in the wings. And when the war finally takes centre stage, the siblings find themselves cast, unrehearsed, into roles they never expected to play.

Rosalind had no love for her firstborn, a daughter. "... it looks like a vegetable...but at least she will have a film star name...Florence." An heir was what everyone wanted...boys could drive motors...be interested in snails, maps and warfare. Finally, a son and heir...Digby.

It is far from badly written: Quinn has a lovely voice, and she drew up characters that may sometimes flirt with stereotypes, but who turn out to be much deeper than one would guess at first sight. In fact, I think this is one of this book’s greatest strength: introducing us to characters you think you know, but showing you a different side of them, a side they themselves were not aware of until the world pushed them around to an uncomfortable or unknown place. What do we learn about Cristabel, from the time she is a child, that indicates her affinity for Shakespeare? Consider her reflection: “Cristabel has always wanted her life to be a story…. Uncle Willoughby was the first to insist upon the importance of her own behaviour and the first to suggest that she could leave an impression on the world, which meant that she existed” (426). De dreiging van de nakende wereldbrand doet het verhaal helaas stagneren om vervolgens veerkrachtig een vlucht te nemen op het slagveld. Verzet! Moon Squadron! Angst, pijn en foute liefde.Why do you think the novel is broken into “Acts” as a structural device? How do the novel’s events map onto the typical five-part structure of a Shakespeare play? But his mind seemed unable to keep company with the fact he was dead. It was desperate, laughable, and in the face of such nonsense, his mind kept jumping up and scampering off to its favourite haunts. Even as he was walking behind his coffin with little Cristabel holding his hand, he was trying to remember the name of a lissom Italian actress he’d met in Covent Garden.

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