Straight from the heart: Review of ‘To Become a Whale’ by Ben Hobson

IMG_2402Books rarely make me cry. Movies, yes. Talent shows, oh boy, yes (when those contestants get selected, they’re so happy! Who could stay unaffected?!). But for some reason, while I may feel some inward emotion when reading, I hardly ever cry. A book has to be powerful to squeeze actual water from me. To Become a Whale is that type of book.

To Become a Whale is the debut novel of Brisbane writer Ben Hobson (published by Allen & Unwin). It’s an emotional and mesmerising read – the story of a boy on his way to manhood, fighting his way through loss and a difficult relationship with his father. Part of the story takes place at the old whaling station on Tangalooma Island, and these gritty details are both repellent and engrossing.

The voice of the main character, thirteen-year-old Sam, is so believable that I quickly fell under the spell of this book and was reluctant to put it down. More than that, I began to love Sam himself, and every twist and turn of his fate tugged at my heartstrings.

And yes, I cried.

What I liked most about this book is that it is written for the reader, not for the author. Ben Hobson hasn’t used long flowery phrases, he hasn’t gone wild with metaphors or wacky similes or descriptive passages. The novel is beautifully written, yes, but always with the reader in mind, never as an indulgent authorial flight of fancy. The story is told in a clear and compelling way.

If you want a riveting read with a profoundly tender heart, To Become a Whale is definitely for you. Just keep the tissues handy.


8 thoughts on “Straight from the heart: Review of ‘To Become a Whale’ by Ben Hobson

    • Marie I loved it and found it hard to believe it was a debut novel – it’s very assured and I got swept up in it – no bits I was tempted to skip, either (and I can be a bit bad like that!). I hope you enjoy it too! xx

  1. I agree, Ben seemed really in control of his voice throughout. I cried! But then, I cry at a lot of books. And TV ads. And songs on the car radio.

    • Oh good, I’m not the only one who cried then! For me what often gets me is when characters are really stoic and that’s what got me in this one – when deep emotion was held back or minimally shown. Agg! Straight to the heart!
      And yes, the voice was so consistent – just a gorgeous book.
      Hope all is going well with your novel … looking forward to hearing the new title when it’s ready!! 🙂

  2. I enjoyed this book, too. Sam is a sweet, sensitive character, and I loved the light and shade of his father.
    This sentence of your review resonated: ‘What I liked most about this book is that it is written for the reader, not for the author.’ I feel the same way—maybe it’s because I write quite simply, too. I find reading some novels like wading through treacle, and my concentration wanders. I love books that are simply written and accessible but with deep messages. Their themes have no less depth or validity just because they’re not written in flowery prose.

    • I agree Louise – I often find novels like this more affecting because the themes hit me harder without the ‘ruffles and flounces’.
      It seems I’m a bit late to the party reading this book, even though it’s only just been released – both you and Kali have already read it! Well, better late than never!

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