In Jon Ransom’s debut novel, water seeps into the crevices between waking and dreaming, flooding the narrator Joe’s consciousness. Set within the liminal panorama of Norfolk’s tidal wetlands, it’s an pressing, roiling story of homosexual love, suppressed traumas and lives lower brief. A working-class author with no formal training, Norfolk-raised Ransom wrote the primary draft on his telephone on a bus. Muswell Press has launched it to appreciable acclaim, together with an look at Damian Barr’s Literary Salon.
After a whale washed up on a seashore tells Joe Gunner that loss of life will stalk him wherever he goes, he leaves residence. However two years later he returns, to a city haunted by ghosts, some residing, some useless. He rekindles his relationship with the magnetic native fisherman Tim Fysh (‘one night time gone, and already he’s busted beneath my pores and skin’), converses together with his drowned sister Birdee and collects his ailing father from hospital.
As recollections assault Joe, the narrative flits between previous and current, revealing flashes of his childhood – the adrift mom, the homophobic paternal bullying. So absorbing is piecing collectively Joe’s previous, you don’t see the twists coming, delivered with an understatement that offers you whiplash.
Snatched sexual encounters and coastal Norfolk – rusty trawlers, tidal rot, ‘heavy’ skies – are sharply summoned in visceral, fast prose. The river programs hungrily by means of the novel, a menacing brown tongue that ‘licks the mudflats like a thirsty animal’. It speaks to Joe, torturing him with doubts. This rural backwater is not any idyll however an more and more brooding reflection of Joe’s troubled thoughts. Because the story unfolds, secrets and techniques emerge, though they’ll’t all the time be trusted: ‘Fact hides like rain on the river.’
It appears like an genuine portrait of the homosexual expertise in small-town Britain. Joe and Tim don’t analyse their connection, they act on it, speaking within the blunt, humorous vernacular of their class and gender. However they’ve all the time endured disapproving eyes on this insular group certain by inflexible notions of masculinity, and each have internalised their disgrace and alienation.
The Whale Tattoo is exceptional for its ambiance, its arresting use of language and the best way the atmosphere serves as an extension of Joe’s psyche. A potent story of grief, love and finally forgiveness, it speaks to the oppressive nature of rising up an outsider in a world the place violence comes simpler than phrases.