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The Whale Tattoo

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The use of such a close first person narrator, within a timeline that skipped back and forth with little warning or explanation, meant that I felt thrust inside this world that told of pain and hurt, and yet somehow also of the various types of love and care. Two-hundred and twenty-nine pages of words that fell out of your head are bound inside a pleasing cover depicting a lad who’s a little bit like you. In their different ways, both of this year’s winning books expand our understanding of what LGBTQ+ literature can and should be,” said Paul Burston, prize founder and chair of judges for both categories. It’s the vagueness of their motives, the troubled honesty with which they navigate their subconscious, that transforms THE WHALE TATTOO into a breathless enigma. Adam Farrer won the 2021 Northbound Book Award with Cold Fish Soup, a darkly hilarious non-fiction debut, forming a memoir out of essays about life in a downtrodden Yorkshire coastal town.

The only thing is Norfolk itself doesn't feature as much, having spent a lot of time there when I was younger, and given the prominence of the description, I rather thought it was going to be a book that was of it's time and place. The prose is dreamlike — or, rather, nightmarish — drifting between the present and memories with an undulating, unpredictable flow. The writing balances wistful beauty with ugly truths and spins a tangled web of jealousy, small town secrets and the power of grief to consume you along with everyone around you. BecaThe plot was often a little predictable, but there is a great voice in the main protagonist that perfectly captures the feeling of life in a small UK coastal town. 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 story is divided into three parts - 1958 - 1980 - 1959 - told through the eyes of 19-year-old Eli Stone living in the rural South.

Complex, fraught and violent, The Whale Tattoo reads like an early Tracy Lett’s play – a steaming mix of blue-collar rage and menace’.

A young fem man, Eli is an outsider at a time when being 'a sissy' (language I found disturbing, however accurate) is guaranteed to cause problems.

And then the random 'play' halfway through which jumped just over 30 years that made no sense and made no contribution to the actual plot of the book, then abruptly switches back was just bizarre. In sometimes dream-like, deliberately disjointed language, a tale is told of after a flood in early 1950s east England somewhere. It isn’t a very long section but it does not work as far as I am concerned and I couldn’t see its relevance. Joe’s disregard for his own wellbeing fills each scene, from simple things like instantly getting his clothes dirty, to pushing genuine people away and putting himself in dangerous situations. The book has a rather charming way of story telling, that at first was a little hard (perhaps to do with the linebreaking on the preview copy!Through vivid dreamscapes and backstories, Joe's story emerges as one of love, lust, and loss, and a personal journey that ultimately leads to the path of acceptance and redemption.

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