*** DEBUG END ***

Celebration of a Leviathan

08 May 2015

Greed doesn't have the last word, says Anthony Phillips


Not Forgetting the Whale
John Ironmonger
Weidenfeld & Nicolson £12.99
Church Times Bookshop £11.70

FOR nearly 50 years, the small Cornish fishing village of St Piran has celebrated at Christmas the Festival of the Whale. Central to the celebration is the memory of their hero, Joe Haak. It was his naked body that was washed ashore one autumn day, nudged there by a great fin whale. When, two days later, that same whale became beached, it was the resuscitated stranger who galvanised the community into hauling the whale back into the sea.

What the village did not know was that Joe had fled his city investment bank when Cassie, the computer programme he had invented, had apparently lost his firm millions. Abandoning his car, he had plunged naked into the sea. Now lodging with the retired doctor, Joe is drawn back to his supposedly invincible Cassie to find her forecasting total financial collapse.

In the face of impending disaster, Joe determines to spend all his considerable savings on stocking up food and essentials from the local supermarket to enable the village to survive. Some of the funniest passages in the book are the manager's response. Eventually, all the villagers take part in filling the four floors of the church tower. As the chairman of Joe's Bank had warned him, "Society is only three square meals away from anarchy." Then the apocalypse begins in the form of a flu pandemic and cessation of all oil supplies. So Joe persuades the villagers to block themselves in from the outside world.

Alongside Joe, central to the novel are the austere Vicar, Alvin Hocking, and his much younger flirtatious wife, Polly. As a result of what occurs, all three find a depth of humanity which has eluded them.

But the anarchy that Cassie had predicted, based on the assumption that self-interest and greed motivated human beings, was not in the end irreversible. Neither has the last word, and Joe is able to fulfil his dying mother's final wish.

So, thanks to Joe - and not forgetting the whale - the village celebrates Christmas luxuriously, and the lights go on again.

Canon Phillips is a former headmaster of The King's School, Canterbury.

Browse Church and Charity jobs on the Church Times jobsite

Church Times Bookshop

Save money on books reviewed or featured in the Church Times. To get your reader discount:

> Click on the “Church Times Bookshop” link at the end of the review.

> Call 0845 017 6965 (Mon-Fri, 9.30am-5pm).

The reader discount is valid for two months after the review publication date. E&OE

Forthcoming Events

Green Church Awards

Awards Ceremony: 6 September 2024

Read more details about the awards


Festival of Preaching

15-17 September 2024

The festival moves to Cambridge along with a sparkling selection of expert speakers

tickets available


Inspiration: The Influences That Have Shaped My Life

September - November 2024

St Martin in the Fields Autumn Lecture Series 2024

tickets available



Festival of Faith and Literature

28 February - 2 March 2025

The festival programme is soon to be announced sign up to our newsletter to stay informed about all festival news.

Festival website


Visit our Events page for upcoming and past events 

The Church Times Archive

Read reports from issues stretching back to 1863, search for your parish or see if any of the clergy you know get a mention.

FREE for Church Times subscribers.

Explore the archive

Welcome to the Church Times


To explore the Church Times website fully, please sign in or subscribe.

Non-subscribers can read four articles for free each month. (You will need to register.)