REVIEW: The Whale Tattoo by Jon Ransom

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


🖊 well-written, unique

🏳️‍🌈 Queer content

⚠️ read the content warnings


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.


Things You May Want To Know: Please be aware, I’m by no means an expert on what may or may not have the potential to disturb people. I simply list things that I think a reader might want to be aware of. In this book: (SPOILERS) death of characters, suicide, drowning, murder, violence, humiliation, abusive relationship, disfigurement




I received an ARC of The Whale Tattoo by Jon Ransom from Muswell Press via Netgalley in exchange for an unbiased review.

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