This novel, a story about a footballer coming to terms with being gay, is gripping, well-written and movingby Sameer Rahim / May 18, 2017 / Leave a comment
A Natural by Ross Raisin (Jonathan Cape, £14.99)
After writing two excellent novels, the Yorkshire-born writer Ross Raisin struggled to get A Natural published. Apparently publishers weren’t keen on a story about a footballer coming to terms with being gay. Raisin was told that women readers didn’t like football, and male readers didn’t want to read about gay men. Thankfully, Raisin has found a home for this gripping, well-written and moving story, which should interest anyone curious about enclosed worlds and hidden lives.
Tom Pearman, a talented young winger, hasn’t quite made the grade in the Premier League and joins “Town,” a small club far from home. The dressing room is a nightmare of machismo, insecurity and bullying. Tom survives by keeping shtum. His manager says when he first saw him, he thought he was “A natural. And I’m going to turn him into a man.” Exactly what “a natural” means—in terms of football ability, or fitting in, or sexuality—is the question that animates the novel. When Tom eventually falls for the groundsman, an ex-player, the dramatic stakes are starkly raised.
Raisin captures both the sweat and the glory of football. He has mastered the register of manager-speak, with its urgently shouted clichés, and the earnest banter on fans’ messaging boards. A parallel plot follows Town’s star forward, whose marriage falls apart after a terrible injury. The intersection of the two plots is cleverly done—though perhaps a little too neatly. All seems resolved when Tom scores an important goal; but for him salvation can never lie in a sport that forces him to deny an essential aspect of his being.