The Whale Tattoo

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Pub Date 04 Feb 2022 | Archive Date 28 Feb 2022

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Description

The Whale Tattoo’ is a stunning achievement - one of the most impressive and assured debuts I’ve ever read’  Matt Cain

'A bold, brilliant and beautiful debut" Susannah Dunn

Cruelly beautiful, utterly authentic – introducing a searingly talented new Queer writer.

When a giant sperm whale washes up on the local beach it tells Joe Gunner that death will follow him wherever he goes. Joe knows that the place he needs to go is back home.

Having stormed out two years ago, it won’t be easy, nor will returning to the haunted river beside the house where words ripple beneath the surface washing up all sorts of memories. Joe turns to his sister, Birdee, the only person who has ever listened. But she can't help him, she drowned two years ago. Then there’s Tim Fysh, local fisherman and long-time lover. But reviving their bond is bound to be trouble.

As the water settles and Joe learns the truth about the river, he finds that we all have the capability to hate, and that we can all make the choice not to.  

Ransom’s fractured, distinctive prose highlights the beauty and brutality of his story, his extraordinarily vivid sense of place saturates the reader with the wet of the river, and the salty tang of the sea


The Whale Tattoo’ is a stunning achievement - one of the most impressive and assured debuts I’ve ever read’  Matt Cain

'A bold, brilliant and beautiful debut" Susannah Dunn

Cruelly beautiful, utterly...


A Note From the Publisher

‘Muswell Press does a great job supporting new LGBTQ+ writers like Ransom' The Bookseller

Jon Ransom was a mentee on the 2019 Escalator Talent Development scheme at the National Centre for Writing. In 2021 he was awarded a grant by Arts Council England to develop his creative practice. Ransom’s short stories have appeared in Foglifter Journal, SAND Journal and FIVE:2:ONE and Queer Life, Queer Love (Nov 21) amongst others

‘Muswell Press does a great job supporting new LGBTQ+ writers like Ransom' The Bookseller

Jon Ransom was a mentee on the 2019 Escalator Talent Development scheme at the National Centre for...


Advance Praise

‘The Whale Tattoo’ is a stunning achievement - one of the most impressive and assured debuts I’ve ever read'. Matt Cain

'A bold, brilliant and beautiful debut" Susannah Dunn

‘With assured narrative, a vivid sense of place and atmosphere, and flint-sharp dialogue, Jon Ransom has written a novel that is bleak and brutal, but never sentimental.. utterly authentic and cruelly beautiful’  Matt Bates

‘ Raw, uncompromising, and authentic, a remarkable debut from an astonishingly gifted writer'  Golnoosh Nour


‘The Whale Tattoo’ is a stunning achievement - one of the most impressive and assured debuts I’ve ever read'. Matt Cain

'A bold, brilliant and beautiful debut" Susannah Dunn

‘With assured narrative, a...


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Literary prizes guaranteed


Available Editions

EDITION Paperback
ISBN 9781838340117
PRICE £9.99 (GBP)

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Featured Reviews

In "The Whale Tattoo", death gains both a voice and a lapping body of its own. Hounded by its murmurs, Joe returns to the home he left two years ago, only to find that memories can scream themselves raw. But death’s grip continues to tighten, leaving Joe risking more than he can bear as he gives in to the power his lover Fysh has always had over him. Jon Ransom wastes no time in raising a moody stage for the reader to unload his awareness onto. With a foggy quay biting into a marsh, and a river that taunts Joe with its whispers, the story’s setting never stops feeding its ghoulish dealings. And yet, despite the burden of its passions, the novel is brilliantly fast-paced. Within the first few pages, both Joe’s discomfort and his torturous affection for Fysh are defined with remarkable efficiency, creating a hook that sinks into the reader with no preamble. Above all, "The Whale Tattoo" stands out for its delectable crudeness of expression. Loss, grief, jealousy, love and lust are all full-bodied entities battling over space on every page, but the mundanity that houses them leaves little room for sentimentality. Instead, the shock of feeling plays out on the surface, raising hair and skin alike, never sinking deep enough to strip the narrative of its haunting visuals. It’s the decaying flesh of the whale on the beach, the hot vomit strangling its victim, the black river resembling an oil stain as it lures its prey into the dark, along with the rage recognized only in the light of day, that animate the story’s underlying menace. And yet, a sense of fragility prevails. That’s because, no matter how unnerving the scene, there’s a distinct stillness in Ransom’s prose. Much like the surface of the river that keeps mocking the protagonist, there’s an ominous spirit behind every word; a beauty that shocks. And, much like the elusive line between the bank of the river and land, time is a shifting entity within the parameters of the story. There’s no clear distinction between the past and the present, only a rush of sensation. The body of water it holds penetrates the protagonist’s psyche, floods reality in a way that is both hungry and foreboding. What’s more, every character carries the water’s darkness deep within, every limb appears forged from something indistinct and shapeless. It’s the vagueness of their motives, the troubled honesty with which they navigate their subconscious, that transforms "The Whale Tattoo" into a choking enigma. It keeps pace with the reader, warning of the consequences of its eventual unraveling. Tension keeps ballooning, swelling like a wave until it crests. When it finally splinters at the reader’s feet, its belly reveals the turmoil beneath, the intrigue thickened by roiling passions. And so, "The Whale Tattoo" is both a dream and a nightmare, both a pursuit of objectivity and an escape from the claws of morality. None of the story’s elements can be called gratuitous, none can turn the reader away from its pages. That’s because, despite its glide through time and feeling, the novel scratches an itch that few books can reach. It’s Ransom’s raw reflection on life, his recognition of the brutality that transforms moments of passing rapture into something dreary, that leaves the reader entranced.

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An astounding debut by an important new voice in queer literature with an completely unique sense of language. Simply a triumph!

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Joe Gunner and the river that keeps mocking him, the death that follows him around and the fragility of everything he holds dear in this book broke my heart as much as it had me glued to each page. Thanks Netgalley for the eARC.

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It took me a while to read The Whale Tattoo by Jon Ransom. This is the kind of book that I like to take my time with, and I did that. Joe left his family for a couple of years. The events that sparked that are revealed slowly throughout the novel. His constant companion is the river... the water whispering truths and lies to him, drawing him closer and giving him a constant sense of doom. It all began with a dead whale on the shore and things have been slipping from Joe's control ever since. Ransom's writing style is unusual; staccato, shocking at times, and authentic. I found this novel to be engaging and heart-breaking and, in some ways, that makes it difficult for me to describe it in a review. As dark as some of the subject matter is, I found the novel to be beautiful. Part of its beauty is in the unique writing style of Ransom. I can honestly say that I've never read anything quite like it and I have read a lot of books over the years. Joe made my heart hurt. He experiences love, loss, tragedy and everything in between on the pages of this book. His head is a comfortable and sad place to spend some time, but I don't regret it at all. This wasn't a book that I was relieved to finish, in fact, I wanted to keep reading once I had reached the end. If you enjoy unusual fiction then you will probably enjoy this story.

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I normally try to stay away from books like this. I find they pull me in, that I end up devouring them in one go while my head whirrs like an overclocked computer. This was no different. The prose is dreamlike — or, rather, nightmarish — drifting between the present and memories with an undulating, unpredictable flow. You're left unmoored, on unstable ground, just like the characters within. This book felt reminiscent of something like a Max Porter or an Andrew Michael Hurley — at the same time shot through with shades of Douglas Stuart. Waste-landscapes and dead-eyed people drinking their lives away in fetid squalor. And yet, there remains the capacity for love (although unnamed, unvoiced), as well as the dogged resistance against the pull of nihilism

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This is a really weird book about and being a teenager and trying to grow up and being gay and about how maybe you are cursed forever, possibly by a whale. It’s magical realism and feels dreamlike to read. Big themes of water, grief, love, the pull of the deep. 4.25 stars.

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