> Skip to content

A touching, clever novel about stories, about using them to create your own identity, and about the way they can forge bonds of love.

A touching, clever novel about stories, about using them to create your own identity, and about the way they can forge bonds of love.

It is 1919. Elizabeth Whitman is working as a nurse in the local hospital, waiting for her husband to return from war, though he is missing in action, ‘presumed dead’. She keeps him alive for their four-year-old son, Jack, by telling the story of a man she calls The Balloonist, who went away in a hot-air balloon and has adventures in exotic countries.

When she is asked to nurse a returned soldier whose head injury has reduced him to an animal-like state with no memory, Elizabeth starts telling her stories to him. It is through them that she manages to engage his interest and offer him a new life . . . in more ways than one.


This places him firmly as one of our leading writers . . . complex narrative, beautiful prose and compelling characters makes this book absolutely sing . . . really, really clever.

Sonja da Freiz, http://www.radionz.co.nz/national/programmes/ninetonoon

The relationship between the wild amnesiac and the pragmatist Is brilliantly laid out and unwinds to a delightful conclusion: the subtitle, A Love Story, forewarns us of such an outcome. . . . This novel is wonderfullyaccomplished, beautifully told and a delight to engage with.

Michael Larsen, NZ Listener

If I read a better novel this year, I will eat my socks. Although I am fairly certain it won't come to that. It would be hard to top this marvellous tale . . . This is an extraordinary story . . . woven exquisitely together by Nixon. Elegantly crafted, gripping and heart-warming. Five stars.

Peta Stavelli, New Zealand Motorhomes Caravans & Destinations

This story is about battles of wills and ideologies as well as the healing power of love. Yet Nixon's novel is also, and equally, about the healing properties of storytelling itself . . . Above all, those who can listen to a story and hear the surface and subtexts are upheld over those whose minds are not open to the riches and alternative ways of thinking that stories can bring. Nixon brings home to us why literature is rightly placed among the humanities.

Peter Stupples, Otago Daily Times

It is a story which is powerful, yet gentle. It is evocative and poignant. But most of all it is beautifully written and clever and kept me hooked to the last.

Wendy A Mill, Timaru Herald

An intricately woven story within a story within a beautiful love story . . . Clever, succinct and yet poetic. Engaging presentation. A good present for a friend, or to yourself.

Latitude Magazine

I am a big Carl Nixon fan – and The Virgin & the Whale has strengthened this position. It is a story about stories – how we use them to cope with trauma; and stories within stories – overtly playing with storytelling, character, plot and ‘happy’ endings. . . . The Virgin & the Whale is poignant and wise and I highly recommend it.

alysontheblog, https://alysontheblog.wordpress.com/

Read More

Formats & editions

  • Trade Paperback


    September 6, 2013

    RHNZ Vintage

    272 pages

    RRP $32.99

    Online retailers

    • Amazon
    • Angus & Robertson Bookworld
    • Booktopia
    • Dymocks
    • Abbey's Bookshop
    • Boomerang Books
    • Collins Booksellers
    • Books Kinokuniya
    • QBD
    • Readings
    • Robinsons Bookshop
    • The Nile

    Find your local bookstore at booksellers.org.au

  • EBook


    September 6, 2013

    RHNZ Adult ebooks

    264 pages

    Online retailers

    • Amazon Kindle AU
    • iBooks
    • Google Play EBook AU
    • Kobo Ebook
    • Booktopia
    • eBooks

Also by Carl Nixon