When Peter Riley was thirteen, a woman with blue hair and a comet tattoo asked him to help load the jaw of a sperm whale into the back of a Volvo 245. The encounter set Riley on a decades-long quest to make sense of what had happened.
Enter the secretive world of whale scavengers. When a whale washes up on one of Britain's coasts, a fugitive community descends to claim trophies from the carcass. Some are driven by magical beliefs. Some are motivated by profit: there is a black market for everything from ambergris to whaletooth sex toys. But for others, the need goes much deeper.
Join Riley on a tour of a stranded kingdom's weird outer reaches, where nothing is as it seems. Meet witches, pedlars, fetishists, conspiracy theorists and fallen aristocrats. And prepare for a final revelation, as the mystery of the comet woman tangles with the enigmatic symbol of Leviathan itself, beached on Britain's fatal shore.
Peter Riley lectures in American literature at the University of Exeter and is the inaugural winner of the Profile-Aitken Alexander Prize. He has been investigating the world of whale scavengers since his teens.
"With wit and a whale-lover's passion, Riley explores the cultural and emotional bonds that form between humans and our sea-dwelling, mammalian cousins – both alive and dead. Strandings is at once incisive and funny, personal and historical, gripping and moving"
– Merlin Sheldrake, author of Entangled Life
"Strandings is a tremendously enjoyable book, a gleefully peculiar mixture of grief and gore populated by a shadowy cast of oddballs, the only certainty the dead whales at its heart"
– Jessie Greengrass, author of The High House