All the books featured in this article have been read in the form of advance review copies. Although recommendations are subjective by nature, the following titles have been hand-picked based on relatively objective standards.
1. ‘The Whale Tattoo’ by Jon Ransom
Publication date: 4th February (Muswell Press)
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.
Much like the surface of the river that keeps mocking the protagonist, there’s an ominous tenor behind Ransom’s 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 novel into a breathless enigma.
2. ‘Young Mungo’ by Douglas Stuart
Publication date: 5th April (Grove Atlantic)
Stuart’s ability to erect a world of such ferocious brutality — both raised and devastated by brittle longings — and still maintain an air of vulnerability is truly uncanny. The story’s central violence, which stems from both poverty and Protestant-Catholic tensions, is almost jubilant.
The young boys it conscripts repeatedly confuse pain and death with pleasure, and they see the suppression of emotion as the mark of a man. The writing is deeply evocative, marked by exceptional precision. Stuart’s depictions of Glasgow’s East End are never stifling, never once intrude on the novel’s other facets.
As a result, you can smell the sour, alcohol-infused sponge of Mo-Maw’s breath as it hits Mungo’s cheek, you can feel the tickle of James’ hair as Mungo noses the crack between his asscheeks.
The author manages to strike the perfect balance between the boy’s purity and the merciless space he occupies, using both his beauty and virtue as a magnifying glass for the troubles he has to both witness and endure.
This also elevates his forbidden love for James to new levels. Ultimately, the story’s devotion to feeling makes for a painfully memorable, bodily reading experience.
Warning: The novel depicts rape, alcoholism, graphic violence, and paedophilia.
3. ‘Boys, Beasts & Men’ by Sam J. Miller
Publication date: 10th May (Tachyon Publications)
Miller’s short story collection is a blend of science fiction and magic realism. Every story is wildly imaginative, each one twists and bends its form to stun and titillate that much more. And aside from the wonderfully eclectic narratives, which burst and shatter but never disenchant, it’s emotion that dominates every page.
Death, grief, rage, lust, longing, loss and desire breed various beasts and terrors, which are, in turn, nurtured by the intensity of human passion. Likewise, the monsters’ physicality is used to illustrate the depravity lurking within the human psyche.
Miller makes it a point to disengage the body from the soul, repeatedly referencing “the bodies we wear”, the fates dictated by our lack of choice when it comes to the fit and colour we’re assigned upon conception.
This fracture is tangible in each one of his stories, and it blends eroticism with ghoulishness, sensuality with violence.
4. ‘Brother Alive’ by Zain Khalid
Publication date: 12th July (Grove Atlantic)
BROTHER ALIVE is an intellectual feast, an existential wail, the anguished contraction of feeling, a pyretic dream. Simply put, it’s a work like no other. Stitched from three unique parts, the novel tells the story of three brothers connected not by blood or race, but by the protective gaze of their adoptive father, Imam Salim.
But as the man begins to unravel, the mystery shrouding his relationship with the boys’ parents transforms into a physical, gouging weight; one that propels them back to Saudi Arabia, where they confront the horrors of their shared past.
Khalid’s decadent prose roils and subdues the pages of the book, swelling around the seam of its poetic tone, fudging the grainy feel of reality. And the deeper we delve into the story, the more ominous the enigma of Youssef’s mental affliction appears.
The Brother’s shape acclimates to the fissures it leaves in the boy’s form, cementing their relationship as not only parasitic but oddly tender.
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