#Feature: The Whale at the End of the World by John Ironmonger @jwironmonger @wnbooks #newrelease #review

By | February 3, 2021

I’m guessing that I’m not the only reader who’s been avoiding any books that mention “a global pandemic” in recent times. But, by chance, just such a book came up in my Facebook memories the other day – and I was really delighted to see that it’s due to get a fresh lease of life, published under a new name and with a new cover tomorrow (4th February). Written by John Ironmonger, it was called Not Forgetting the Whale when I read and enjoyed it back in 2015 – its new title is The Whale at the End of the World, published by Weidenfeld & Nicolson. The book’s Amazon page is a little messy at the moment, a bit of a mixture of old and new – but you’ll find the kindle version here, and just 99p. But why not make this one you buy in paperback? Here’s the Waterstones link to help you track it down…

I’d hate anyone to be put off by the mention of a pandemic – it’s the context, not the focus – and if I ever put together a list of my ten favourite books of all time, this book would be guaranteed a place. It was never a massive bestseller, and I suspect many people might well have missed it first time round – but I’d recommend it really highly, and it’s one you might just like to catch up with. I notice the publishers are pitching it as “for fans of Eleanor Oliphant, The Rosie Project and The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry” – and I really wouldn’t argue with that. Let’s take a closer look…

It all began with the whale.


When a young man washes up on the sands of St Piran in Cornwall, it is clear to the villagers that this is not a regular day. What has brought him here? And what is the crisis only he understands, that threatens not only their community but all of civilisation?


With a global pandemic on the horizon, and a whale lurking in the bay, the villagers of St Piran must band together to survive. Intimate, funny and heart-warming, John Ironmonger tells a compelling story about the important things that hold us together, and how hope can be found, even at the end of the world.

And I’ll share once more my review from 2015…

…this is one of those rare books that I’ll be thrusting into the hands of friends and urging them to read it, it’s so thoroughly perfect.


Joe Haak washes up naked on the beach at St Piran in Cornwall, and is taken into the heart of the community of 397 people who live there: a fin whale seen in the bay is washed up shortly afterwards, and the village pulls together to return it to the sea. This is when we first start to meet the individuals who make up the community, and what wonderful individuals they are, all drawn in vivid detail. From the curmudgeonly retired doctor who provides Joe with a home, to the rigid vicar and his flighty wife, the nurse from Senegal with the beautiful singing voice, the perceptive primary school teacher, the beachcomber, the naturalist, the writer of romantic novels – they’re all drawn quite perfectly.


Joe was formerly an analyst with an investment bank in the City where he designed a computer programme – Cassie – capable of predicting ailing stocks by analysing news sources and identifying links and impacts.  Details of his former life are told in flashbacks as he adapts to his very different life in St Piran, and are thoroughly fascinating. Joe fled when Cassie predicted a global catastrophe, and the village pulls together to survive the challenges that follow.


The story is wonderful, the characterisation absolutely entrancing, and the themes around networks and communities and the unpredictability of human nature quite unforgettable. I guess you’d call it a post-apocalyptic novel, but overall I found it a fascinating exploration of how a very specific community of people react to a global event, and how people’s resilience and capacity for love will always surprise you. If you enjoy your books a little quirky, a little different from the norm – well, you’re going to love this one.

Go on, give it a try… and if you enjoy it, I’d also highly recommend his earlier book The Coincidence Authority (you’ll see how much I loved it here). John’s latest book is The Many Lives of Heloise Starchild – released in August 2020 and never a blip on my radar – but I’ve certainly added it to my reading list, and will just have to tell you more later…

About the author

John Ironmonger was born and grew up in East Africa. He has a doctorate in zoology, and was once an expert on freshwater leeches. He is the author of The Good Zoo Guide, The Notable Brain of Maximilian Ponder, The Coincidence Authority, Not Forgetting The Whale and The Many Lives of Heloise Starchild. John was part of a world record team for speed reading Shakespeare, and once drove across the Sahara in a £100 banger. He lives in rural Shropshire with his wife, Sue, and has two grown-up children.

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8 thoughts on “#Feature: The Whale at the End of the World by John Ironmonger @jwironmonger @wnbooks #newrelease #review

    1. Anne Post author

      I really loved this one – hope you do too! x

  1. Hayley at RatherTooFondofBooks

    I adored The Coincidence Authority, it’s one of my favourite books so I’m definitely going to buy a copy of The Whale at the End of the World – thank you for bringing it to my attention. 🙂 x

    1. Anne Post author

      I do remember how much you enjoyed The Coincidence Authority, Hayley – you’re going to love this one!


    Thanks Anne … a very kind review … and please let me know if you like The Many Lives of Heloise Starchild … 🙂 Best wishes. John

    1. Anne Post author

      My pleasure, John – and I can’t believe I missed the publication of The Many Lives of Heloise Starchild! Now on my kindle, and might take me a few months – but if I love that one too, I promise I’ll be shouting about it…

  3. Jill's Book Cafe

    This sounds fabulous, so fabulous it transpires I already own it as Not Forgetting the Whale, perhaps it’s time I read it!

    1. Anne Post author

      Definitely one you’ll enjoy, Jill…

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