... [a] delving, haunted and poetic debut. Giggs is worth reading for her spotlight observations and lyricism alone, but she also has an important message to deliver ... she questions the conventional wisdom that all is well with whales now that conservation campaigns have helped their populations rebound ... her journey is intellectual; she relentlessly follows lines of questioning for marathon distances ... she uses whales as invitations to consider everything else: the selfie-ization of environmentalism, the inherent worth of parasites, Jungian psychoanalysis, solar storms, whale songs records going multiplatinum and so much more. In the cascade of mini-essays that results, Giggs comes off as much as a cultural critic as a naturalist ... All this cogitation is both the overall strength and occasional weakness of the book. For in a work about whales, there are few direct encounters with the awe-inducing leviathans; basically, just the single whale-watching tour and two strandings. This can make certain passages feel like a literary distillation of volumes of scientific papers through which actual lobtailing, rainbow-spouting, aria-ululating whales rarely breach. At times, there was so much analyzing of symbolic whales that I felt bereft of actual ones. But maybe that’s the point. Giggs is extremely sensitive to how our 'tormented love' of cetaceans can be 'a need to connect, so dire, that it smothers the beloved'—as when she devastatingly dissects a photo of a mob in Argentina petting a baby dolphin to death.
Giggs has an eye for unforgettable and disturbing details that probe at the ancient and ongoing relationship between humans and whales ... Giggs explores the contours of humans’ obsession with whales over time in terrific specificity. Her investigation is historical, cultural, biological and personal ... All of this is engaging. Yet it is Giggs’ poetic and insightful analysis that elevates this book into something unforgettable ... In the whale, Giggs truly does find the world ... Her prose, previously published in literary outlets such as Granta, is luminous ... In tracing humankind’s continuing intersection with these alluring creatures, Giggs ultimately uncovers seeds of hope and, planting them in her fertile mind, cultivates a lush landscape that offers remarkable views of nature, humanity and how we might find a way forward together.
Giggs’ meticulous research is itself awesome. Every page has its breathtaking revelations. The slant light of facts reveals humanity’s own animal nature ... Giggs only occasionally brings the first-person into focus — childhood museum whales, a vegetarian offered whale flesh, the delicious frisson of love’s inklings. This is part of the work’s ethical approach. Stepping back to observe, and attentive examination and dismantling of anthropocentrism allow better access to the whale and to overarching ecological questions ... For all this wondrous detail, the whale remains a lens through which to consider humanity’s relationship with the environment ... Fathoms’ exhilarating poetic language is richly allusive and orchestrated. Alongside poetry’s capacity to capture and amplify wonder runs a deeper, empathic impulse. Metaphor is a bridge ... Haunted by limited bridgings and the spectre of the future, this marvellous work of haunted wonder ends with a fiercely unabashed vision of humanity moved 'from indecision to action', for whales, for love, for the world.