Virgin and the Whale, The

Nixon, Carl

  24 Reviews

As well as a nurse, Elizabeth Whitman is a storyteller. While she and her son Jack wait for news of their husband and father who is missing in action, Elizabeth invents the exotic adventures of the Balloonist. The stories spill over into her work, especially when she is asked to care for a returned soldier who has no memory.

In this delightfully quixotic tale set in a thinly disguised Christchurch of the WWI era, the role of memory and the nature of reality jostle for attention along with the creative power of stories. An uplifting and whimsical read that may or may not be true ... [Larger font]

Comments from Groups

Almost all found this book an easy read. We were impressed with the author's skill - great descriptions and expert storytelling. Many topics provided stimulating discussion. We appreciated the local content/places too. A worthwhile item in the scheme. Christchurch 071

Interesting, gentle and quirky. We loved the way this story was told. Napier 024

The book was enjoyed by all. Clever, and thought-provoking - we had very interesting discussions around the questions. The author's asides/talking to the reader were annoying to some. Te Anau 001

An engaging read, and finished by all! It was lovely - we would have been sad if we hadn't had the opportunity to read this. A great discussion followed. Christchurch 229

We considered this a story of redemption and rebirth as well as a charming love story, but the additional stories were considered by some as unnecessary. Hamilton 024

Most of the group agreed it was a very readable story spoilt somewhat by the 'narrator". It gave an insight into nursing and psychiatric practices in the era associated with WW1. The story of 'The Virgin and the Whale' told to the young child was glossed over by most of the group, and we felt it was more distracting than being parallel to the main story. Christchurch 317



NELS 075
A terrifically well told story, enjoyed by all our group!
A very popular read with our group. Very much enjoyed the author's style of writing. Several members enjoyed the references to Christchurch, and one or two remembered the whale on display at the museum. Imaginatively told with empathy and candour - a topic that had much sadness from the war, but a tale that was much more likely to make you smile and cheer for the underdog.
CHCH 396
Feelings ran lukewarm among our group - even though we live in Christchurch! Most members disliked the structure of the book, didn't like the tale of the balloonist and took a strong aversion to the book cover!
CHCH 225
We all really enjoyed this book. Well-written and good characterisation, with a Christchurch setting - made it more interesting.
TOKO 001
Varied responses from our members. Some found the relationship between Elizbeth and Lucky beautifully constructed, however some of the later parts of the novel seemed forced.
A good read but a disappointing ending; and we found the Dr. a weak and frustrating character!
Excellent feedback from our group, without exception. Some wanting to read more from this author.
PAPA 001
Mixed reviews. This novel created a heated discussion on "fiction versus fact". Some loved it - some felt it was two improbable stories. Some liked the author's voice, others felt the author's voice interfered with the flow. Was it really based on fact Is it pure fiction Insightful regarding mental illness and treatment.
AUCK 279
Excellent book - enjoyed by everybody.
Everyone enjoyed this read - some members went straight to the local library ( after completing the novel) to find more of this author's works. Wonderful characters and a great story with meaningful links to our country's history ( war...treatment of mentally status.) We had mixed feelings about the author's 'asides' to the reader. Some loved them. Others found them intrusive. Book notes were excellent.
Generally well received, and much discussion around the questions. Great to read a NZ author.
AUCK 021
We all loved this book.
Our whole group enjoyed reading this book. It was very cleverly woven together. We couldn't quite work out why the "Virgin' and not just a girl.
MAST 005
All our group loved this book. The NZ setting was familiar and obviously Christchurch. The story well thought out and beautifully constructed from the original. A story within a story. Characters were believable and Elizabeth very empathetic and brave in following her ideals as well as coping with her grief. We discussed the ordeals & mental health of WW1 & WW2 soldiers and lack of support on their return. 'A love story' on the cover was a spoiler we thought.
AUCK 302
We loved it - gorgeous NZ setting.
Some mixed feelings among the group about this book. All agreed that the descriptions of the casualties of war and their rehabilitation were based on extensive research and were very credible. The main characters were well-rounded, and Elizabeth in particular struck a chord with her kindness to Lucky (and others) and her bravery in standing up for her patients in the face of the male-dominated medical establishment.
CHCH 033
A very enjoyable read! Elizabeth was strong and well portrayed. The extra story within a story, we thought, was well done and certainly added to our enjoyment in reading. We all live in Christchurch so it was very apt, and two of us were enthralled to discuss it having seen the whale skeleton as children. Great writing. An excellent read!!
All enjoyed the book. It was simple tale but well told, with many extra facets and threads.
CHCH 113
We didn't really like the author's 'asides', he verbalized his thought processes about the story, and we felt that this distracted us from the plot, and we could have done without this. However everyone loved the Christchurch angle, and all appreciated his descriptions of the city.
Most found the book an easy read, and enjoyable. Our 'Christchurch' members were especially interested in ticking off the locations they recognised - though some others felt that the conceit of renaming the city was pointless and a bit of a distraction... A good yarn was overshadowed a bit by the 'tale within a tale within a tale', but even so led to plenty of discussion about memory, war and the status of women at the time of WWI.
TURA 001
Great story. Everyone enjoyed it very much.
AUCK 364
Most of the group really enjoyed this book.
WELL 036
Our group enjoyed this book - the construction is very clever and creative. We especially found it relevant with the current WWI centennial remembrance, and how we are more 'savvy' about PTSD/shell shock now.
TAUR 035
We thought the book was easy to read and was deceptively simple, managing to cover many deep and thoughtful subjects. We found it very cleverly constructed and felt the narrator's interjections did help to keep the book taut. We did wonder whether the title was apt. Overall a very good response to the book and we found it an interesting insight to life in NZ after WW1. We were slightly critical of the questions - our own discussion was much more interesting and to the point. But the notes preceding were very good. And most of us were looking forward to trying more titles from this author.