Cover Image: The Whale Tattoo

The Whale Tattoo

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date:

Member Reviews

As debuts go, this is impressive and I'm sure Jon Ransom has a healthy writing career ahead of him. The problem, I felt, was that he tried to cram all his creative ideas into a single book - dysfunctional family, (non-)romantic trysts, and a bit of the supernatural (or mental health, it's never made clear). The writing was also too abrupt and harsh, a theme I'm seeing a lot in recent publications - it's good for tension, but if the tension if taut throughout then there is no roller-coaster of emotions, everything flatlines. That said, the locations are vivid and the book is enjoyable, so a good read!
Was this review helpful?
Wow! I wasn't sure what to expect and I selected the book based mostly off the title. I was immediately consumed and entranced by Ransom's storytelling. I look forward to reading more from this author. 

Thank you Net Galley for the opportunity to read and advanced copy!
Was this review helpful?
Joe Gunner is a poor young lad who doesn't know what he wants out of life - working in a cheap shop when the carcass of a giant sperm whale is nailed to Norfolk beach. Keith whispers dire predictions to Joe: death will follow him wherever he goes. Joe returns to his homeland, a fishing village by the river, where he confronts his past and the consequences of the life he fled two years ago. He meets his former lover Tim Fish, fights off his abusive brother, Tim's pregnant wife and his homophobic father. It is only with his sister that he finds common ground. Meanwhile, the whale won't stop stalking him, and the river has also spoken to Joe.

Ransom's debut novel alternates between present events and flashbacks, flashing back to Joe's troubled, distracted mind. Emotions take over and he gets lost in memories, unable to endure the tragedies of the present. This is a gripping, unpredictable but emotionally sustained text. Simultaneously raw and poetic, the prose glides from scene to scene, always in an unstable, 'threshold' space, like Joe's thoughts.

Fortunately, unlike Young Mungo, Ransom is not drawn into the hero's suffering for the sake of suffering (misery porn). There are nightmarish twists and turns in Joe's life, but there's always at least some light, however dim and through whispering water, looming ahead, which makes The Whale Tattoo a surprisingly enjoyable and cathartic read.
Was this review helpful?
I tried, but really didn't like the writing style. Somehow, I was expecting something much more lyrical. It's a raw novel alright but, to me, not in a good way. Glad to see others enjoyed it, but not for me I'm afraid.
Was this review helpful?
This book was a really unique reading experience. It’s very much a stream-of-consciousness novel and you feel as though you’re in the head of this frantic narrator. You discover plot points at the same time as him and it takes you the same amount of time as him to understand what that means for his life. While this was interesting, it did mean a lot of jumping backwards and forwards and I did have to re-read parts over again to make sure I understood what was being said. 

It is beautifully written however, with long winding prose about the sea intersected with gritty sex scenes and frenzied monologues spoken to the river. The themes of drowning are really intelligently woven through all parts of the protagonists life. 

So all in all, really excellent writing by an up and coming queer talent - I just found some parts a little clunky and repetitive for my tastes!
Was this review helpful?
Such a beautiful book with even more beautiful representation. A must read for any queer reader! The way Ransom does such a deep dive into the interpersonal relationships of the main characters just hits a specific itch that I haven’t felt in awhile.
Was this review helpful?
Joe Ransom’s The Whale Tattoo is a difficult to read book that is also difficult to set aside. Is it a queer book? A trauma book? A working class commentary? A quasi-autobiographical first novel? Probably . . . yes?
The whale and the river are compelling dream images. They speak of the unspeakable and the (deliberately) forgotten. 
The portrayal of queer experience is frightening for me. Illicit dirty washroom sex is not a good memory for me, and not a future I wish for for my brothers and sisters. Russian and American politics, on the other hand, make it seem possible again, which made reading it horrifying in a way which perhaps wasn’t intended.
The portrayal of transgenerational mental health issues is also frightening because it’s closer to home than I would like. The violence is outside my experience, for which I’m grateful, but I know it’s out there and very much real for others.
The first person narrative is challenging. It is at the same time intimate and irritating as the reader tries to differentiate themself from the protagonist. More challenging for me was the dreamlike drift through memories. Headings with timestamps would’ve been intrusive, but I wished the editor had found a typographic way to support the context shifts.
Was this review helpful?
I don't think I can put anything down for this book that will do it jusice. I cannot believe that this is the authors debut book and it makes me excited for whatelse is to come. Captivating.
Was this review helpful?
Thank you, Muswell Press, for allowing me to read The Whale Tattoo early. 

I loved the lyrical writing, but I liked the overall story less. If you adore unique books, you should definitely check this one out. I couldn’t connect to the characters as much as I wanted, and I found the sex scenes rather graphic
Was this review helpful?
There's a sort of wild rawness about this that I liked a lot but, at the same time, it feels quite one-note in the anguished soul of the narrator. The writing is stylised and frequently lyrical but there's a faint air of teenage rebelliousness as if the narrator thinks it's edgy and clever to swear and to keep talking about his aching balls (right from the opening). Gritty and a bit grimy, lots of potential but somehow a little immature and unfinished.
Was this review helpful?
Dark, atmospheric, absorbing. I picked up this one and couldn't put it down until I'd finished it. Delving deep in the psyche of the main character Joe, who is trapped in a small seaside town, queer and tormented by death. The book convincingly portrays the claustrophobia of an English small town, especially where you grow up queer and people live hard lives. With numerous scenes of graphic sex this is a very descriptive novel, where the inky black water and sky really come alive in the writing. An astonishing debut novel.

With thanks to Netgalley and the publisher for an ARC in exchange for an honest review.
Was this review helpful?
DNF at 74%

This was one of the weirdest book that I have ever read. The casual queerness was nice but wasn’t a fan of the casual homophobia and the character constantly vomiting everywhere. I lost interest after stopping for a couple of days.
Was this review helpful?
I feel like the writing in this book was too fast, when you were getting into what was happening the topic changed or the setting changed I feel like it needed more pages and time to develop the idea further for it to have more content and make more sense
Was this review helpful?
The Whale Tattoo is certainly an unique book. It was quite a stressful experience for me, you are inside the frenetic mind of the narrator in an emotional rollercoaster ride of a book with little breathing room. Everything feels like it is happening all at once, giving you a sense of the main character's fractured mind. 
I believe some will really love this book and it has great merits, but the characters were a bit too flawed and underdeveloped for me to really connect with any of them and I wasn't the biggest fan of the writing style as well, unfortunately. 
Thank you to Netgalley for providing me with an e-arc for this book!
Was this review helpful?
This story scoops you up and carries you along like a roaring river right from the first page. It’s somehow simultaneously sluggish and desperately paced, truly reflecting Joe (and several of those around him) — emotionally resigned to this life of struggling, but with a bitter hope of more pulsing through nonetheless. I found the non-linear structure and language both to be particularly compelling, working together to settle me right into Joe’s headspace throughout. 

It’s 4 stars rather than 5 because I didn’t quite feel enough connection to the characters or the story to get lost in it, which is my personal mark of a top tier read. But it was still a striking read with some real moments of beauty scattered throughout.
Was this review helpful?
Thank you to Net Galley and publisher for the digital copy in exchange for an honest review.

While the story itself is interesting and the language rather beautiful, the structure just did not work for me and I did not particularly connect with any of the characters. Many readers will surely enjoy this book but sadly I am not one of them.
Was this review helpful?
I received an eARC of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

I loved the way this book was written—a rich character study that ingrained itself deeply within the protagonist's mind. The sex was written fascinatingly. I wish that the plot had felt more consequential to the story itself. On the whole, a rewarding story.

Was this review helpful?
I would like to thank the publisher for the advance copy of this book I received. 

This book was just not for me. I know from other reviews that I am in the minority on this, so if you like books that make you write reviews that sound like English essays you may have better luck. I loved the idea of a book like Allan Sillitoe or Thomas Mcguane but with a gay MC, but I bounced hard off of the structure. Unlike others, I didn't feel any connection to any of the characters. I felt sorry for Joe, who has had so many struggles that just get worse as the novel goes on. 

This book will resonate with some readers, but it just wasn't for me. Recognizing this, the 3 star rating is only because Netgalley forces me to give a rating.
Was this review helpful?
What an incredible debut. This book teetered on the edge of too much for me a lot. It threatened to completely overwhelm me, so much so that I had to take breaks. But it's worth it. The writing is absolutely stunning, the story desperate and agonising. I felt so much for the people in this. I feel haunted by their tragedies even still and it left me almost breathless at times. Just absolutely brilliant all round, sometimes a punishing read but one I can easily recommend.
Was this review helpful?
'The Whale Tattoo' is a book that takes off at a breakneck pace and delves deep into the specifics of how we hurt and affect those that we love most, as well as the scars left behind by love. 

The narrator of the story has returned to his hometown to reunite with his lover, Fysh, and his family, torn asunder by dysfunction and tragedy. The story assumes a non linear structure, almost like throwing broken pieces on the ground and arranging them into a collage, an epic of loss and ultimately hope. 

The exploration of the main character and his relationship with Fysh (his lover) is almost too painful to bear as the novel unfolds. As time goes on and we learn more about them, the characters gain more complexity giving the story a rich texture. This too goes for Fysh's wife Dora, the narrators dad, as well as his late mother and his sister.

The prose in particular is spare in places, but the author uses language beautifully. Not a word is wasted and the narration reflects the dialogue where the characters converse in clipped tones. There were times where I worried that too much was being held back and I was going to be left at the end with more questions than answers, but to the best of my recollection, I don't think anything was left unanswered. This was a particular concern with the imagery around water and the eponymous whale tattoo, but this all makes sense. Trust the process!

This book is sexually explicit and quite graphically violent in places, but if you have the stomach, I'd say give it a read. Can't wait to see what Jon Ransom does next!
Was this review helpful?