The Melancholy of Whales

Original title: La Mélancolie des baleines

Author: Gerin, Philippe

Publication Date:

August 2021



Original language and publisher

French | Actes Sud

Territories Handled

Netherlands, North America, Scandinavia


Literary Fiction

The Melancholy of Whales

Original title: La Mélancolie des baleines

Author: Gerin, Philippe



They have been preparing for this trip for months, spending their evenings as a family concocting the ideal itinerary on a blackboard hanging in the kitchen. And now, nine years after their first visit to Iceland, Ayden and Sasha are back where everything started for them – a place where they once knew pure and irresistible happiness. But everything is different now. The original euphoria has evaporated and their exalted memories have become tainted by the uncertainties of the present and the spectre of impermanence. The state of health of their son Eldfell, who is discovering this land of ice and volcanoes for the first time, has cast a heavy shadow of anxiety over what should have been an enchanted interlude. To keep their promise to take him on a whale safari, Ayden and Sasha finally managed to obtain the permission of his doctors and brought forward an expedition initially planned for their son’s tenth birthday.

Guðmundur is a bus driver who spends his days relentlessly driving along the same stretch of road, but at night this man with the strangely mismatched eyes dreams of being a writer and scribbles down fragments of novels that will never see the light of day. Abandoned at birth on the steps of a hospital, Guðmundur has never got to the bottom of where he came from or why he has these narrow eyes and dark skin that have made him the target of discrimination. It is a mystery that holds him back and prevents him from realising his full potential.

Having spent a lifetime taking care of other people, retired nurse Arna has returned to live in the blue house of her childhood where she used to live with her husband before he left her 25 years ago, telling her one evening that he was going down to the beach to attend to a beached whale. Arna has never got over his disappearance and despite his long absence she continues to converse in private with the man she loved and to look out for his silhouette on the path bordered with lyme grass where she saw him for the last time. Strange phenomena have been occurring of late around her property and Arna can’t help imagining that the impossible will come to pass.

One stormy evening, Ayden, Sasha, Eldfell and Guðmundur take refuge in Arna’s blue house, which looks out over the black sandy beach where the cetaceans come to die, and together they confront an overwhelming solitude. It is a night of a solar eclipse that will forever seal their destinies.

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