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A Natural

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Tom has always known exactly the person he is going to be. A successful footballer. A man others look up to. Now, though, the bright future he imagined for himself is threatened.

The Premier League academy of his boyhood has let him go. At nineteen, Tom finds himself playing for a tiny club in a town he has never heard of. But as he navigates his isolation and his desperate need for recognition, a sudden and thrilling encounter offers him the promise of an escape, and Tom is forced to question whether he can reconcile his supressed desires with his dreams of success.

Leah, the captain’s wife, has almost forgotten the dreams she once held, for her career, her marriage. Moving again, as her husband is transferred from club to club, she is lost, disillusioned with where life has taken her.

A Natural delves into the heart of a professional football club: the pressure, the loneliness, the threat of scandal, the fragility of the body and the struggle, on and off the pitch, with conforming to the person that everybody else expects you to be.

352 pages, Hardcover

First published March 2, 2017

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About the author

Ross Raisin

12 books75 followers
Ross Raisin is a British novelist. He was born in Keighley in Yorkshire, and after attending Bradford Grammar School he studied English at King's College London, which was followed by a period as a trainee wine bar manager and a postgraduate degree in creative writing at Goldsmiths, University of London.

Raisin's debut novel God's Own Country (titled Out Backward in North America) was published in 2008. It was shortlisted for the Guardian First Book Award and the John Llewellyn Rhys Prize, and won a Betty Trask Award. The novel focuses on Sam Marsdyke, a disturbed adolescent living in a harsh rural environment, and follows his journey from isolated oddity to outright insanity. Thomas Meaney in The Washington Post compared the novel favorably to Anthony Burgess's A Clockwork Orange, and said «Out Backward more convincingly registers the internal logic of unredeemable delinquency.» Writing in The Guardian Justine Jordan described the novel as «an absorbing read», which marked Raisin out as «a young writer to watch». In April 2009 the book won Raisin the Sunday Times Young Writer of the Year Award. He is currently a writer-in-residence for the charity First Story.

In 2013 he was included in the Granta list of 20 best young writers.

Raisin has worked as a waiter, dishwasher and barman.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 121 reviews
Profile Image for Peter Boyle.
474 reviews573 followers
April 9, 2017
This novel is all about football. Wait, my bookish friends, come back! It also examines weighty themes: identity, masculinity, the journey from adolescence into adulthood. Most importantly, it explores what can happen when the worlds of sport and sexuality collide.

Tom Pearman is a 19-year-old footballer who has just been released from his contract with an English Premier League club. With no other options available, he signs a year long deal with Town, a League Two outfit. This is a different planet from the glamour of the top division: small crowds, ramshackle grounds, bumpy pitches. Once a hot prospect for England Under-18s, he will have to prove himself all over again with a team that is struggling for its own survival. His talent is not in question but Tom has a deep secret burning inside of him, something he feels he must suppress in order to make it in the game. What follows is an eventful season in this young man's career, in which he will have to battle the demons of self-doubt and shame in order to survive a ruthless, unforgiving sport.

Tom is a shy and sensitive soul. His introverted nature makes him an outsider in the bawdy environment of the dressing room. Though he does his best to take part in the squad's antics and pranks, he spends much of his free time by himself, going for long drives around the coast and aimless walks on the beach. He is still learning how to become a man, living in digs with a local family who cook his meals for him. He doesn't need his sexuality to complicate his situation even further, yet he cannot deny his urges, "the things which he blocked out over and over that he knew he wanted to do again." After a passionate tryst with Liam Davey, the club groundsman, he slowly allows himself to fall in love. But both men realise that the relationship must stay hidden. Who knows what might happen if the fans and the media discovered this illicit affair?

It's hard to believe in this day and age but homosexuality is still a taboo topic in professional football. By the law of averages several gay players must exist but only a handful have ever been brave enough to come out. By placing himself inside the head of one such sportsman, Ross Raisin imagines the nightmare they might go through - the abuse from the stands and the opposition, even from their fellow team-mates. Not to mention the horror their own families would endure after hearing these sickening chants. Is it any wonder they stay in the closet instead of subjecting themselves to this torture?

Much of the novel is given over to Chris Easter, the club captain. Though he is a selfish individual with a high opinion of himself, he is also plagued with self-doubt, spending hours on the Town website forum, poring over the fans' thoughts on his performances. His wife Leah is a close confidante of Tom's boyfriend, though Chris seems to have a problem with Liam. They played in the same youth team years ago but don't speak nowadays, and we eventually learn why.

Therein lies one of the main issues with A Natural - it is low on surprises. Once we uncover the simmering resentments at play in the story, it is quite easy to predict what will happen next. What did impress me about this book is its authentic depiction of life in the lower divisions. Being a long-suffering Leeds United supporter myself, I know the pain of following an unfashionable team away from the glitz of the Premier League. It's tough to get excited about a midweek game in the Johnstone's Paint Trophy and Raisin captures this humdrum fandom brilliantly. But what sets this novel apart is its compassionate exploration of such a delicate subject. A Natural displays a dignified awareness and a thoughtful understanding of the tribulations that gay players go through, and for that alone it deserves major praise.
Profile Image for Rachel.
550 reviews846 followers
May 6, 2019
The thing that should not be underestimated as you read through my thoughts on A Natural is just how much I hate sports – which probably raises the question of why I decided a book about football/soccer to begin with, to which I can answer: if I had understood the extent to which this book is about football/soccer, I probably would not have picked in up in the first place. Instead I’d seen it billed as a coming-of-age novel about a gay footballer, and I suppose I thought the football/soccer would be mostly backdrop. Reader, it was not backdrop.

There’s a reason this book is 400 pages, and it’s because Ross Raisin details just about every single match, every single inner working of this low-level soccer club, with unerring precision. And for the first half of the book, it was frankly driving me mad. But then in the second half of the novel, when we start to dive into the meat of the story – our protagonist Tom beginning a relationship with the club’s groundskeeper – I found that my frustration with Raisin’s narrative choices was beginning to abate. Yes, I still found the soccer talk endlessly tedious, but the criticisms that I’d had (that soccer was the foreground, Tom’s story was the background, how does this make for a compelling narrative at all, why hadn’t an editor come at this manuscript with a machete) started to mostly* fly out the window, because it’s impossible to deny how well-crafted this book is. It’s a slow burn in every sense of the phrase: it’s a slow-paced story, and (unless you’re riveted by soccer) it withholds its rewards until you get to the end.

*I did have another criticism that never fully faded, though I began to understand it more in the second half: why certain chapters were given to the perspective of a married couple, one of Tom’s fellow footballers, Chris, and his wife Leah. Their story does dovetail with the central narrative and I do understand the decision to include their point of view, but I’m not convinced that we needed as much detail here as we got.

I know I’m doing a pretty poor job of selling this or explaining my 4 star rating (hang in there!), but the thing is, I’m not sure that this is a book I’d widely recommend. It takes patience and perseverance and if I were in the habit of DNFing I probably would have called it quits at the halfway mark. But if this sounds at all like a story you’re willing to commit to, it gets really, really good. Raisin navigates the homophobic world of professional sport with a deft hand, meditating with perception on themes of performative masculinity, shame, and the tension between the inner and outer selves. I think Raisin is a tremendously gifted writer, and the way he renders the relationship between Tom and Liam is so palpably fragile that it’s almost painful to read at times. So while this book wasn’t perfectly targeted to my preferences as a reader, I do think it’s a gem of a book that I’m glad to have read… and ultimately to have stuck with.
Profile Image for Blair.
1,726 reviews4,079 followers
April 5, 2017
(This review contains references to a plot point which some may consider a spoiler. However, it's so central to the book that there'd have been no point in me writing any kind of review without mentioning it. You have been warned.)

Tom is a talented young footballer who has always seemed destined for stardom. He's spent years training with a local Premier League club, with the implicit assumption they would ultimately sign him. But that doesn't happen, and instead, Tom moves hundreds of miles away from his family home to join a League Two team only ever referred to as 'Town'. He is quiet and private – a natural player but, perhaps, an unnatural footballer. Raisin's penchant for the bleak lends itself perfectly to the world of third-division football, a strange halfway house between Premier League glamour and the muddy drudgery of local leagues; a world where teenage boys can earn more money than their parents ever have, but still be living out of Holiday Inn hotel rooms and getting takeaway from the local chippy every night.

However, that is not the whole story. A Natural is certainly a narrative of growing up, becoming an adult, surviving alone, but it is also a narrative of sexual awakening and repression. Tom is gay, though at the start of the novel he has buried that knowledge deep. It isn't immediately apparent that his sexuality differs from the other players' – only that the laddish way they perform sexuality, pulling paralytic girls in clubs and getting blowjobs from strippers in front of their teammates, makes him uncomfortable. Later, when Tom begins to sense a (reciprocated) attraction to Town's groundsman, Liam, internalised homophobia is conveyed through language and draws you into the character's disgust at himself. When Tom and Liam first kiss, the description is unpleasant: Tom experiences spasms of revulsion and a fleeting desire to hurt Liam; he momentarily feels 'certain that he was about to be sick into the man's warm stinking mouth'.

Tom and Liam do embark on a sort of relationship, but it is stunted by Tom's paranoia and discomfort. Running in parallel with this is the story of Chris Easter, once the golden boy of Town, whose star is fading; and his wife Leah, as lonely and isolated as Tom in her own way and, incongruously, Liam's best friend. Their fates slowly interweave, building to an undeniably contrived climax that's probably the weakest thing about the book. Throughout, A Natural eschews the dialect-led style of Raisin's previous novels in favour of calm, plain, straightforwardly descriptive prose. It would be workmanlike if it didn't flow so smoothly.

Let me get all millennial-hot-take on you for a second: as many critics have noted, Raisin's novels are about men and masculinity, but I see them as feminist. With A Natural, it struck me that he writes about how traditional notions of masculinity, patriarchal norms, and – in this case – heteronormativity all fail men who, for whatever reason, don't conform. With Sam, the protagonist of God's Own Country, we see how one stereotype becomes another: how the bullied, awkward outcast turns becomes the creep, the stalker, the rapist; how emotion is pushed down and turned inward until it becomes a twisted and deformed thing. In Waterline, Mick is the proud tradesman whose skills have become redundant, and whose pride and stoicism lead him to bottle up his grief and reject help until there is nowhere to go but down.

Compared to Raisin's previous leading men, Tom gets a relatively upbeat ending. There's a brutal sort of happiness about the final lines. But does his success come at a cost? I watched Moonlight a few days after I finished A Natural, and couldn't help drawing parallels between the film's protagonist, Chiron, and Tom, imagining a similarly stifled adulthood for the latter. The scenes of Tom and Liam's holiday in Portugal – the only time Tom allows himself to actually be himself – are difficult to forget: glimpses of genuine joy amid the sadness, shame and denial.

A Natural interrogates our ideas of what it means to 'be a man'. How far have we really come with acceptance of that which is perceived as 'other' – especially in a closed world like that of football, wherein a traditional conception of masculinity is central to the identity of the sport itself. Tom's story is quietly brutal in its examination of the damaging limits of such ideas, and unflinching in its depiction of the consequences for individuals. It feels damning but also intimate: a point is made, but the characters are far more than mere pawns.

I received an advance review copy of A Natural from the publisher through NetGalley.

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17 reviews
March 12, 2017
This story has been dubbed a slow burner, of emotional poignancy, about the ultimate taboo of a gay footballer. But the world, which is supposed to be filled with raw emotion, sportsmanship, and tormented characters is actually a world filled with the dull, the paranoid, and the melodramatic. I wanted to like Tom, the 19 year old, gay footballer, who has yet to come out to himself -- Raisin, however, never allows the reader to fully experience Tom's pain. No sooner are we about to explore an emotion, then we are back onto the field describing the dullness of football. Like his characters, Raisin retreats onto the pitch to hide from emotional truth.

Tom slowly comes to realise his sexuality by falling in love/lust with Liam the groundskeeper. The relationship unfolds so irregularly, that it is hard to understand the motivation behind any of the characters. In one early scene, Tom becomes so drunk, that he flees the club he is with and runs to the object of his affection, drunkenly saying the most stilted opening line ever, "kiss me you queer." Done with no emotion, or sexuality, the scene seems as though it were written by a homophobic teenager tasked with writing a gay romance. The scene which could have developed is, like so many of his scenes, cut short. Speaking of sexuality, this book, which is ostensibly about sexuality, has no sexuality in it. I don't need sex scenes, but the author seems to shy away from any physical romance, that renders the book stilted and unnatural. And the sex scenes that do happen, happen with such monotone dullness that you don't even realise that you just read about sex.

Except for Liam, there are no characters that are in any way likeable. And so, as Tom's career titters throughout the book, the reader simply doesn't care if he is going to make it to this team or that, or win this game or that. Liam and her "best friend" Leah are the most unlikely coupling. Raisin perhaps is trying to break away from the model of the straight-woman gay best friend trope by making Leah homophobic. Like so many of the characters in this book, I wanted to feel her plight, but she was little more than a stereotype with a minor twist. A character lazily drawn for the purpose of advancing plot rather than developing character.

Liam is the only character that has any real emotion, but even then he is prone to extravagant emotional outbursts that do not ring true. And like other characters the most mundane happening seems to trigger an overwrought sexual memory (as for instance the wind blowing against his ears reminds of Tom, and he is forced to steady himself on his car lest he swoons! -- We're just missing the smelling salts!) Again, Raisin is perhaps trying to break some stereotype of a masculine gay man with emotion -- but it does not ring true.

If the book is attempting to critique football as a homophobic masculine racist sport by engendering a world in which gay culture is unheard of, the vast majority of people are raging homophobic racists, and that the internet is something that can be controlled, then perhaps Raisin has succeeded in his task. It seems as though, although the book seems well researched on the football side (or at least Raisin knows about football), the book's "gay moments" seem more the product of guesswork and failed intuition than by asking an actual gay person what they feel. Twitter seems to exist, but Grindr, the gay dating app makes no appearance. Even the most paranoid, the least tech-savvy, download Grindr. Straight men download the app, but apparently in "Town" (the lazy unoriginal team name) lives in such a bubble that this app doesn't exist. Where is the scene of Tom downloading the app, talking to a stranger, and then be terrified that he has talked to someone who knows him. Where is that angst that many real closeted gay men go through. Instead, Tom waters his cacti, a heavy handed metaphor for his dry (sexless) independent nature.

In short this book is about 20 years to late, had it been written in 1997, then perhaps it would have rung true, but it shows a wilful disregard for reality to suit a narrative that is tedious, long-winded and boring. I understand that there are homophobes in football; I understand that there are gay men who internalise this homophobia; but for both Tom and Liam to both be completely unaware of their sexual feelings and identity in a world of internet pornography, Grindr, and gay media content rings unrealistic.

It is a shame, because I did want to like the book, but when the characters are so dull, I had to force myself to the end, in the hope that perhaps something good will happen. The book is not hopeful, it is not uplifting -- not that it should be -- but in its misery, pessimism, and general nastiness, alongside a few well-crafted sentences, it is quite simply unmoving, disappoint and bad.
Profile Image for Chris Blocker.
691 reviews158 followers
July 27, 2018
Let's get something out of the way. I don't always like the rules. I think all of us can agree that sometimes the rules are stupid. I don't always play by the rules, but sometimes I do. And sometimes I just dance around the issue discussing the rules instead of getting to the point... I was raised in the States and so, we have a little sport we call soccer. Growing up, I believed that's what its name was until, later in life, I learned that much of the rest of the world calls it football. That makes sense. I like that name better. I'm not much into sports, but when my kids started to play competitive “soccer,” I started to follow the sport minimally. And man, can some people get upset about the name. Okay, I agree it shouldn't be called soccer, but it is what it is. That said, I believe I'm mostly writing for an American audience, so I'm going to use the term “soccer.” Some of you may get upset about this. Given the comments I've come across online from time to time, some of you may really get upset about this. But let me tell you why none of this matters:

Because this book isn't about soccer (or football).

Yes, the protagonist is a professional soccer player (footballer). Yes, the supporting cast is almost entirely made up of fellow or former soccer players. And there are certainly many scenes that take place on the field (pitch). In fact, I imagine a semi-comprehensive knowledge of the sport is significant in understanding what is going on with the action of the story. But such knowledge is not required: soccer is merely the conduit through which the story is presented. At its heart, A Natural is a story that skillfully tackles questions of gender roles and sexuality.

A Natural is an excellent blend of literature with sports. The last and only time I enjoyed a sporty story was for a similarly named book, Bernard Malamud's The Natural. Despite the similarities in name, the two books share little in common, aside from the sports theme and an exploration of the influence of others on ones fears and desires. Yet, without clear indication as to why, Raisin has named his book A Natural—is this a nod to the everyman role of Malamud's protagonist Roy Hobbs? I see the potential, but I don't have any solid answers.

Tom Pearman is the Roy Hobbs of A Natural. At nineteen years old, Tom is on the fence that separates tomorrow's bright young stars from the never-quite-did-make-it duds of yesterday. Tom himself is unsure of who he is and struggles to find his place amongst the competition, both on and off the field. Pearman and his fellow players are a wonderful cast. Though they many times fall into the stereotypes of professional players, they are not limited to this role.

I tore through this book. This may have just been a result of having the time to read, or it could've been that the story pulled me in. Either way, I was far from uninterested. I do feel that Raisin could've spent more time in the minds of the players and less on the pitch. The action sometimes takes over, and though it is important, it wouldn't have hurt the story by any means. My biggest disappointment with the novel came in the concluding scenes. Overall, the conclusion felt rushed. While the rest of the novel kept me fully engaged, it was in the final pages that my mind finally began to wander some. Having already made the comparison to The Natural, this is surely the biggest difference between the two novels. The greatest moment in Malamud's novel comes in those final pages, where we see Hobbs' decision play out. “Say it ain't so.” I expected something of equal weight with this one, but it just didn't play out that way, which was fine, but it was a mildly disappointing ending to an otherwise stellar story.

A Natural is probably one of the greatest novels I've read that deals with sexuality. It addresses the subject of men who do not conform to standard roles of masculinity and heterosexuality, but it approaches the subject from many different angles. It feels genuine and never relies on authorial manipulation. You see, you can define a man, slap a label on him, and expect him to play by the rules. But sometimes, people just don't play by the rules. Some of us watch football, some watch soccer, and some just play a different game all together. That's the core of this novel. A Natural is a novel written not only for the GLBT community, but for all who step out of societal norms, and maybe, just maybe, even for soccer fans (regardless of what they call themselves.)
Profile Image for Amanda.
429 reviews111 followers
January 23, 2020
"Mate, you know I don't mean any of it, yeah?" Beverly said.
Tom frowned, appearing confused, although he understood perfectly well and was already working out how to end the conversation.
"All this bullshit with Spence. I don't mean anything against you. It's just a laugh. It doesn't mean anything."
"I know."
"Probably half of them don't really mean anything by it. They don't know what they're saying. They just know they've got to say it. If you see what I mean."

Welcome to the weird world of sports! Here the rule is that everyone is perfectly fine with gay men until it's someone in their own midst, and then it's right back to the anti-gay propaganda. But let's take a step back and look at what A Natural is all about. Which is soccer. And I'm not talking about some these dudes run after a ball occasionally in a fade-to-black scene, I'm talking soccer, with meticulous descriptions of the game and its strategies, of the intricate relationships between players, fans, managers, and the club organization. Not to mention every single other detail that in some way is related to soccer. You'll get the bus rides to and from games, the manager bossing the players around, our main character describing how he runs on the soccer field, descriptions of the fans walking to the arena and watching the game. We'll read about the trading of players, the progress of the league, and much, much more that has nothing to do with anything but the technical side of soccer and its world.
How many possible readers did I lose so far?

Even though I'll admit it was something of a hassle to get through the initial droning about soccer, it was worth it. Nestled in this heavily detailed description of the game there's a bigger story to be told: the homophobic atmosphere and macho culture that (often) surrounds male sports. Which does not imply that everyone who participates in sports subscribes to this particular view, but rather that this is integrated into the game and its surroundings. In A Natural the story is told mainly through Tom, a young man who until now had a great start in his career as a soccer player. But after being trader from a Premier League team to a lower division, he feels lost and distant from it all. After meeting Liam, the groundkeeper of the soccer field, Tom struggles to make it all fit; coming out is not an option, not if he wishes to get back to the top, but to compartmentalize his life takes its toll.

Raisin's portrayal of the game is immaculate, but reading about Tom's struggles and his evolving relationship with Liam was like having a nerve constantly strung. The fragility of their relationship and the daunting prospect of the choices Tom would have to make sooner or later is what drives the second part of the story, and it more than makes up for the slow first half.
Profile Image for Paul Fulcher.
Author 2 books1,133 followers
April 18, 2018
I thought, that boy’s a player. A natural. And I’m going to turn him into a man.

Many reviews of Ross Raisin's The Natural, particularly in the literary press and blog world, are from non-football fans and hence either put off by the football in the story or rather dismiss it as not necessary to appreciate the novel.

But as a fan of a lower league football club, AFC Wimbledon, I approached this as a novel about the sport, and am pleased to report that it holds up very well indeed.

Tom Pearman, a 19 year-old former England youth international, has been released by the Premier League club he supported as a youngster, and now finds himself in League 2 (which his sister insists on calling 'division 4'). Raisin sets the scene wonderfully:

He’d arrived less than two months ago, shortly after being let go by his boyhood club at a brief and tearful meeting with the new manager. The memory of that afternoon was still difficult for him to think about. All of the second-­year scholars lining up in the corridor among the new man’s cardboard boxes and whiteboards. The office and its stale stink of the old gaffer’s cigarettes. The sight of the new manager behind the desk, calling for him to take a seat.

“You’re a good lad, from what I hear. Your parents should be proud of you. You’re going to be some player, when you grow into yourself. I’ve got no doubt that you’ll find another club.”

Tom found out afterwards that he’d spoken exactly the same words to all of them, except for the two he had awarded first-­team contracts to. Thirteen lads who had progressed through each of the youth levels with Tom, all hoping now for another club to phone them while they thumbed the jobs pages or took on work from recruitment agencies, shopping centers, the multiplex, all waiting to grow into themselves.

Unlike most of them, though, Tom did get approached. A small club down south. His agent called him one morning to say that their chairman had organized a hotel for the night so that he could come down and talk to them with a view to a one-­year contract.

“Who?” his sister asked when he told his family. “What are they, non-­league?”

“No, they just got promoted from the Conference. My agent says they’ve got money behind them.”


The club is 'Town', incidentally the same generic team name chosen by Barry Hines (of Kes / A Kestrel for a Knave fame) in his 1966 debut novel The Blinder. Town are a fictitious composite club, which Raisin has playing as a 25th club in the 2011/12 season alongside the real League 2 teams.

Initially Tom struggles to settle in in footballing terms, as the manager, an old school non-league veteran, prefers, in Tom's words, big man hoof ball (although in my experience it is usually the fans of lower league clubs who insist on this).

But when, with the team firmly rooted to the bottom of the league in January, a young new manager, Aidy Wilkinson, is appointed, who has Brian Clough's preference for playing on grass rather than clouds, Tom senses his footballing skills may be in greater demand.

The story follows his time at the club through spells of injury, bench-warming, Johnstone Paints run-outs, recalls to the first team, the year-end 'will my contract be extended' discussion, the signing of a star-player in his position, Conference loan spells, loan recalls and cup glories.

But this isn't a novel just about the life of a lower league footballer, although the setting is far from incidental. Tom's insecurity as a footballer is reflected by, indeed perhaps a function of, his insecurity about his sexuality, and (the reader arguably realising his feelings before he does) he eventually starts a relationship with Liam, the son of the family with whom he lodges, but also the groundsman at the club, a former apprentice goalkeeper himself.

Raisin very effectively conveys the homophobia of a sport where epiphets like 'gay' are used as all-purpose insults indicating a lack of appropriate manliness, and where terrace chants focus on any perceived difference. Although it has to be said this is only partly the story of a homosexual player forced to hide his sexuality in the macho world of professional football, as Tom's struggles with his own identity.

Raisin has also taken the decision to include a second contrasting relationship. Tom's antithesis in many respect is Chris Easter, the veteran club captain. His dream move to Championship level Middlesborough the previous season didn't work out, but he is re-signed by Town on big wages (well big by League 2 standards - his 2.5k per week means he earns less per year than top Premier League players earn in a week) at the Chairman's behest. The old manager is no fan and when he suffers a long-term injury, he becomes increasingly isolated from the players and his family. Instead, and in my favourite parts of the whole novel, he becomes obsessed with comments on the fan forum (I really hope the Wimbledon players don't read wupgb.co.uk): his interaction putting a whole new light on those posters who claim to be 'in the know.'

We also see things from the perspective of his wife Leah, once something of a small town celebrity as a WAG, now a struggling mother of their young son, while trying to develop her own career in fashion design. In a link between the two stories Leah is also Liam's closest friend and confident - as it turns out not an entirely sympathetic one, and the rumours about Tom and Liam start to reach the fans forum, the Boardroom and even the tabloids.

As a number of reviewers have commented, the multiple points of view - Tom, Liam, Easter, Leah - aren't entirely balanced. The narrator/reader doesn't easily enter into Tom's head, but that rather effectively reflects the way he closes off his own feelings, but Easter and Liam don't really come alive at all, and the sections involving Leah are rather oddly full of somewhat irrelevant detail. That said Raisin does very neatly link the two stories at the novel's end.

Raisin is a Bradford City fan, and has clearly also researched the book extensively, not just the homophobia in the sport, but also lower league life generally, which remains a world apart from the Ferraris, supermodel WAGs and multi-million pound contracts of the Premier League.

The only similar account I can recall is the non-fictional Only a Game?: The Diary of a Professional Footballer by Eamon Dunphy, now a sports journalist but then a journeyman footballer for Millwall. And Tom's view of Town's first game, which he misses through injury, could have been taken straight from Dunphy's book:

Town were 2-1 down and Tom realised that he wanted them to lose. For his absence to be taken notice of, spoken about.

As a fan it all rings so very true - a new signing tells the press it’s a real testament to what the Chairman wants to achieve here that we’ve got him- but in reality he was only the third on Wilko’s target list due to a recurring back problem.

I was particularly impressed by the consistency and detail of the underlying story. Although the other players are mentioned only incidentally and spread through the book - this is no Red or Dead with its complete lists of games played, teams and scorers - one can actually piece together the evolution of the starting line up and the in-and-outs over the season. Indeed so detailed is this that I was bizarrely bother by my inability to identify the first choice support striker for the relegation battle run-in!



Certainly recommended to supporters of lower-league football teams. And if you're not a supporter - either you don't like football or you're a customer of a Premier League team - well you should be!

Interview with Raisin:
www.esquire.com/uk/culture/amp14570/h...

Two external reviews of particular relevance:
http://www.slate.com/articles/arts/bo...
https://www.theblizzard.co.uk/article...
Profile Image for Joanne Sheppard.
439 reviews39 followers
November 22, 2017
A Natural by Ross Raisin is a quietly literary novel about a 19-year-old professional footballer who, upon being let go from a Premier League club in the north, is signed by a League Two club down south. Shy and introverted, Tom Pearman finds it hard to adjust; he's living in digs, his team are failing and he struggles to get along with the club's bullying manager as he succumbs to a succession of injuries. But Tom has a much bigger problem: he's gradually coming to realise that he might be gay, and the consequences of being found out while pursuing a career in football are unthinkable.

A Natural is brilliantly well-written. Raisin's prose is sparse and clear, and perfectly captures Tom's status as a perpetual outsider - he even finds himself playing on the wing, rather than his old position as a striker in the centre. The novel also evokes the bleakness of his environment with a stark perfection: damp pitches, empty changing rooms, tawdry provincial nightclubs, cheap corporate hotels. There's a constant sense of insecurity and unease - Tom is terrified of his sexuality for its own sake, not just because he fears being outed and shunned, and like many footballers, he also lives in constant fear of career-ending injuries, loss of form or losing his place in the squad to a new, better signing.

Ross Raisin's decision to include chapters from the points of view of two other characters gives the story some valuable additional perspective, and lends depth to the story. Club captain Chris Easter has returned to Town after a disastrous stint at Middlesbrough and nearing the end of his career, spending his days obsessively refreshing threads on club fan forums to see what supporters are saying about him. He's a husband and father, but when someone asks him where his son goes to nursery, he doesn’t know the answer.

Finally, through the eyes of Easter's wife Leah we get a taste of life as someone whose partner has a career around which the entire family's life revolves. Constantly trying to avoid upsetting Easter's delicate equilibrium - brash alpha male on one hand but insecure to the point of paranoia on the other - Leah is left to look after their child, prepare his nutritionally calculated meals, give him massages and endure long afternoons of boredom in the player's lounge on match days.

The constant state of unease experienced by all three characters makes A Natural an oddly tense read, even though it's not at all a plot-driven novel. Tom's furtive relationship with a club employee is played out against a backdrop of constant homophobia, both casual and overt. That's not to say that everyone involved with football in this book is a gay-bashing stereotype - individually, in fact, plenty of the characters aren't - but Raisin does paint a realistic picture of changing room banter, and aggressive, strutting machismo, and also highlights the oddness of a group of men who are frequently naked in each other's company, encouraged to form close bonds and hero-worshipped obsessively by male fans, yet remain in complete denial that this might be in the slightest bit homoerotic. Raisin also looks at the conflicting attitudes towards gay men held by some women - the sort who like the idea of a camp, outrageous gay best friend but feel jealous, rejected or threatened when they meet gay men who are 'straight-acting'.

Football in this book is both Tom's enemy and his saviour, and I can't quite decide whether you need at least a moderate understanding of it to love this book. Ross Raisin paints a vivid picture of life in the lower echelons of the game, and his descriptions of Town's ground, facilities and management are full of well-chosen details that will create the right atmosphere if you know nothing about the game - but equally, I think a reader with zero football knowledge might just miss out on being able to appreciate how absolutely spot-on Raisin's observations are. I certainly think you need to understand the degree to which football lags behind society, and even most other sports, when it comes to the acceptance of gay men (of the thousands of professional footballers in the British men's game, not one has come out as gay) in order to fully grasp exactly what Tom is trying to come to terms with.

A Natural is sensitively-written, understated and touching, and often desperately sad. I can't say that the ending left me feeling that any of the relationships at the book's core were satisfyingly resolved, but it's all the more realistic for that, and ultimately there is a note of hope at the end that leaves you wondering if one day, after a lot of soul-searching and redemption, things must just turn out all right for Tom after all.
Profile Image for Shawn Mooney (Shawn The Book Maniac).
650 reviews582 followers
Shelved as 'did-not-finish'
June 9, 2017
The story and especially the shy young guy who's at the centre of it are not holding my interest. The writing is fine, but I am just not caring about anything that's happening so far. I don't do well with dull, flat protagonists. Abandoned at the 15% mark.
Profile Image for Ian Mond.
475 reviews74 followers
April 12, 2017
I remember having doubts about Stephen King’s long essay, Head Down, the penultimate story in his 1993 collection Nightmare & Dreamscapes. The piece, which was originally published in the New Yorker, chronicles the 1989 Little League baseball season for Owen King’s team, Bangor West. Surprisingly, it happens to be the most compelling work in the entire collection as King adroitly combines the rats and mice of baseball with a funny and heartfelt profile of a group of young boys struggling with the troughs and peaks of competitive sport.

At the time I decided two things (a) Stephen King has the writerly chops to make any subject fascinating and (b) baseball, while a sport that rivals cricket in the boredom stakes,* lends itself to high drama as evidenced by the following classics of cinema – Field of Dreams, Bull Durham, A League of Their Own, Major League, Moneyball, that George Herman Ruth biopic where John Goodman played the eponymous “Babe” and The Natural. In comparison American Football has Remember the Titans and not much else, and the less said about basketball or ice hockey films the better.**

Coincidentally Ross Raisin’s third novel is titled “A Natural”. It has nothing to do with baseball but if you follow the same critics I do then you’ll have seen a great deal of hype for the book earlier in the year. To say it’s been well reviewed would be like saying that Donald Trump sometimes uses Twitter inappropriately. All the plaudits and backslaps are well deserved because A Natural proves wrong my second assumption, that when it comes to sports and great story-telling baseball has a monopoly. The novel, which is all about soccer – a pastime I couldn’t give a tinker’s cuss about… well, unless it’s Australia playing in the World Cup – is as enthralling as Stephen King’s Head Down, except in the case of Raisin’s book it’s 100,000 words longer, deals with the professional side of the sport (not Little League) and happens to be fiction.

The main focus of Ross Raisin’s novel is Tom, a 19 year-old who, when the book opens, has just been released from his contact with a local Premier League club. This is a body blow for the young man who always believed he was bound for the English Premier League. Tom is forced to move to a town he’s never heard of, hundreds of miles away from his family, to play for a Division Two team. The club – aptly named “The Town” – is coached by an arsehole, is comprised of a mix of also rans and coulda beens and is facing relegation after an awful start to the season. With the coach unwilling to give Tom game-time, he starts to doubt his ability. In addition he fears the day when a long-held secret becomes known.

While the novel starts with Tom, and while most of the page count is devoted to his ongoing challenge of trying to fit into his new environment while also being true to himself, A Natural isn’t just Tom’s story. Raisin also focuses on the team’s Captain, Chris, a bitter man, who like Tom nearly reached the big-leagues, but was never good enough, and who spends his free time surfing online forums (Raisin nails these forums… sometimes it felt like I was reading about my Aussie Rules football club and the poor quality of certain players). More importantly, we also get the perspective from the Captain’s wife, Leah, who worries about her recalcitrant husband – especially after he suffers a horrible injury – while also juggling a toddler and thoughts of a career in textile design.

I was aware of Tom’s secret before I read the novel and it didn't impact on my enjoyment. This is a book that expertly explores the pressures that come with the expectation of others while also deconstructing the blokey world of professional male sports. Raisin clearly has a deep love for football, and his descriptions of play, especially for a hater like me, were lovingly realised. But he's also aware that masculinity, mixed with disillusionment and cynicism and a fear that you'll end your career as a footnote in the history of a club that no-one has heard of, creates an environment where prejudice and insularity – euphemistically described as closing ranks – can destroy a person.

I often see a divide between people who read and enjoy books and people who are passionate about sport. But as Raisin and Stephen King highlight this binary is false. The competitive nature of sport and the personalities involved drive the narrative as much as any literary or genre novel. It's even possible for a person who is ambivalent or hates a particular game to, for a brief moment, suspend their judgement and become as fanatical as the supporters screaming from the stands. That's the atmosphere Raisin creates in this superb novel. I'll be stunned if A Natural isn't long-listed for the Man Booker.

* And I say that as a cricket tragic who will happily watch all five days of a Test series.

** I am clearly trolling here: The Waterboy is a fantastic film unfairly shunned by the Academy.***

*** Also, please note that as an Australian the only sports I’m referring to are those played by Americans. Because other than “Bodyline” and “The Club” (which came out in 1980… my God, I feel old) you ain't gonna find many films about cricket or Aussie Rules.

Profile Image for Mandy.
3,102 reviews260 followers
March 12, 2017
For such potentially interesting and though-provoking subjects – masculinity and sexuality within football – this book remains dull from first to last. And not only dull – it’s also bland, the style flat and leaden, the characters and dialogue equally so. It’s all of the “he says this then he does that then he does something else” variety with no nuance or shading or attempt to get into the characters’ inner lives. Many issues are touched on in the novel and that’s certainly to its credit. Identity, being gay in a homophobic environment, shame, love and desire, depression and isolation. Weighty themes indeed, but all dealt with in the same monotonous tone. The book follows the career of a young and rather naïve teenager called Tom who has been let go by the Premier League Academy which had scouted him and is now playing for a minor league club – irritatingly and jarringly just called “Town”. He faces many challenges, not least his own disappointment, and increasingly his sexuality. The fact that the setting is football shouldn’t put anyone off as the drama and action is all played out off the pitch but what dull action it is – except when it’s being melodramatic and then it’s just silly. The “then this then that then this again” narrative style might well reflect the life the characters live but it doesn’t make for an entertaining read or allow the reader to really engage with the characters.
Profile Image for Amy Tipper-Hale.
11 reviews7 followers
June 6, 2018
Raw and awkward - ‘Tommy’ is one of the most painfully vivid characters I’ve ever come across. Love, loathe or be completely indifferent to football, it really doesn’t matter. Friday Night Lights in Yorkshire. Save for a long train journey, take snacks and tissues.
Profile Image for Andrew Cox.
188 reviews3 followers
March 30, 2018
I am usually very disappointed in books where the story revolves around sport. Football is usually the worst. The Damned United by David Pease and Fever Pitch by Nick Hornby being notable exceptions.
A Natural depicts lower division football and issues around sexuality. There are comparisons with Aravind Adiga's "Selection Day" which is about cricket in India & sexuality.
I love football but feel it is at times so out of touch with the rest of the world. Greed appears to be (particularly in top flight football) rife & there is no loyalty. Maybe this is how the world is & it is I who is out of touch. Obscene money & bigotry. This book focuses on issues of homosexuality within the game. Having just read "From the Heart" by Susan Hill , a tale from the 1950s, it is hard to think that the attitudes there are very much in tune with feelings about homosexuality in modern times but this is football where it appears as if time has stood still in certain areas. No currently playing professional footballer has come out as gay and reading this you will understand why. It is a terrible indictment on football.
I seem to have read many books recently where the main characters are gay. Whether this is a reflection on how (hopefully) for most people sexuality is not a controversial issue anymore I don't know.
As a supporter of a lower league team I have often wondered about the culture of bullying in football and the prehistoric views held by many (certainly not all) fans. The views held on Fans Forums illustrated in this book are representative of these forums. This is a wonderful description of grass roots professional football. The feeling of a small town where everyone knows everyone. It is a coming of age novel, it is a reflection on big fish in small ponds & the impact on families. Leah, the wife of the club captain & the friend of the gay groundsman, adds a wider aspect to the book. In what is a mainly male environment having a female perspective is both realistic & revealing.
Hopefully this view of football, particularly in relation to sexual stereotypes, will be seen as out dated as stories from the 50s. Football has a long way to travel.
Take away the sexuality side of this book it is a wonderful exploration of isolation, loneliness and the crave for fame & identity. Excellent
Profile Image for Nick Davies.
1,499 reviews39 followers
March 6, 2019
My Mum loaned me this, after I expressed an interest in bildungsroman type novels, and though this was simultaneously more than 'coming of age' and not quite 'coming of age', it was a compelling and powerful tale.

The novel follows a talented young footballer as he struggles to adjust to life at a new club of lesser prestige, as well as struggling to come to terms with aspects of his sexuality and maturity within the fishbowl that is professional sport. There is a secondary narrative about a fellow team member, injured, frustrated, and his wife and child increasingly trapped and isolated. It was gloomy and thought-provoking, and beautifully written too with real insight into the characters and their situations. The style I found convincing - bluntly descriptive of the mundane and extraordinary, not the showy long internal monologues of some novels I have read which failed to feel real in all their ceaseless and perfect introspection. There's a starkness, there's a sensuality in places which offsets this. I did find the building sense of dread a little unpleasant, but this did not in the end spoil for me was an intense and affecting read.
Profile Image for Gochrisgo.
111 reviews
December 23, 2017
Smart detail driven British novel about the intricacies and even the ambivalence of coming out told from the perspective of a mid-level football player just coming into adulthood.

It must be hard to write about life’s repetitive slog without the novel itself turning into a repetitive slog but Raisin manages to just pull it off with rich details like the cactus garden and watery hotel meals. A story of modern manhood and sports.

Gentle and naturalist approach to masculine storytelling.

I am a romantic at heart and can’t help wishing for a better if maybe less realistic ending for the gay couple.
Profile Image for Atharv G..
409 reviews5 followers
July 17, 2018
I decided to pick this up after the World Cup Final because I wanted a soccer-related story. This book definitely delivered on that front, but it also had very thought-provoking portrayals of many other themes. It never felt like the author was taking on more than he could handle, and I enjoyed the thorough discussions on masculinity, sexuality, identity, and what it means to be "natural" and "successful." Despite the seemingly intentional disconnect between the reader and Tom's internal thoughts, Tom definitely came to life for me. His own isolation and reservedness from those around him felt like an accurate representation of a young person trying to grow into himself. I didn't always agree with his decisions, but even these mistakes contributed to creating a well-developed personality.

Unfortunately, the other characters weren't quite as developed as Tom. Although they each offered different interesting perspectives on the state of the club, Tom was obviously the main focus of the story. I think this imbalance worked against the other characters' development.

It's been a while since a story completely sucked me in like this one did.
89 reviews
August 19, 2017
Didn't expect to love the book as much as I did - the blurb sells it way too short. It's sad to think that the novel probably is not too pessimistic and I'm wondering if the reviewers stating that it feels too dated have ever immersed themselves in the world of football. At times it was hard to read about Tom's on-going struggles and the blatant homophobia from the team, from some of the friends, and the often bleak atmosphere of the novel really only got broken once (and not even then fully) - during Tom and Liam's vacation. The ending could have been wrapped up a little more and came too suddenly and was left too open for my tastes.
Profile Image for Nicolas Chinardet.
384 reviews81 followers
July 2, 2017
An engrossing study of alienation and it's many forms: how we become separated from who we think we are, from our team, from majority social moors, or from our families.

The structures of the chapters and paragraphs, and of some sentences are a little odd at times but it's still a great read, though I found the ending a little too open for my taste.
Profile Image for K✨.
175 reviews18 followers
January 22, 2018
I can’t stop thinking about this book. I don’t like sports, much less reading about them, but somehow Ross Raisin imbues the soccer scenes in A Natural with such emotion and physicality that I couldn’t help but devour them. The relationship between Tom and Liam is so taut, fraught, and devastatingly real. One of those books that I wanted to immediately read again as soon as I finished it.
Profile Image for MisterHobgoblin.
337 reviews43 followers
March 18, 2017
A Natural is the story of a football dressing room. It's a lower league dressing room (specifically League 2, aka The Fourth Division). This is the bottom rung of professional football - below it is a land of semi-professionals, tradies by day and footballers at the weekend. The dressing room is populated by jaded old pros who have tried, and mostly failed, at higher league clubs; young kids torn between ambition and hope on the one hand and the trapdoor to non-league on the other; and just occasionally, the rare man who is comfortable being a hero in a small town. For all of them, there is the spectre of their contract end date and the question of whether it will be renewed.

Specifically, the story focuses on four characters: Tom Pearman, a young footballer who was released at the end of his scholarship with his home town club; Chris Easter, the club captain; Leah, Easter's wife; and Liam Davey, the groundsman. Each has their own demons; none terribly happy with their lives. Yet despite this, the public demand for a "club" in which everyone is matey, blokey and carefree pervades everything. There is horseplay, drinking, clubbing and banter.

We see the reality, though. A precarious career, depending so often on the last performance and the last mistake. Lives are controlled by coaches who dole out free time, permission to have a drink; set bedtimes; and humiliate those who don't fit in. Footballers spending their lives on the road; ploughing up motorways between their home town, club town, away games and just driving round to get headspace away from their teammates. They live in guesthouses, hotels, temporary rentals. They have no stable friendships, no time to put down roots. At he whim of the coach, they can be living in another city with barely a couple of days' notice, playing for a different team, being idolised by a different set of supporters.

So what happens if one of the players is gay? There has only ever been one openly gay professional footballer in England (Justin Fashanu) and he ended up taking his own life. Homophobia is rife in football and is tolerated when turned on both one's opponents and one's own team. Managers have gone on record to say that it could never be acceptable to have a gay player in the team; players have taunted one another when they don't fit the laddish stereotype. Everywhere in British society, we have had gay people breaking down the barriers and claiming their part in the world: ay rock stars; gay TV presenters; gay MPs, gay clergy; gay CEOs; gay police. But no gay footballers. And as A Natural demonstrates, football is a hermetically sealed world in which participants have been immersed since early teens. The managers and coaches have never been in the real world; the journalists have either come from the same world or are in awe of it. There is no place to challenge these preconceptions. Indeed, there were even still hints of racial prejudice on display in A Natural to an extend that would see such people drummed out of any other corporation in disgrace. A Natural was a sad indictment of the forced social compliance of the football world.

But sadly, the novel did not feel quite equal to the ideas. The split focus between the four main characters felt a bit choppy and uneven. Whilst Tom seemed well-drawn and fully realised, I never quite believed in Chris and Leah Easter, and especially not in Liam Davey. They did not seem to have sufficient depth or history; their actions sometimes seemed unpredictable and driven by unclear motive. They did not seem to be consistent in how they related to one another. And in Leah's case, she brought a confusing array of friends and acquaintances who were hard to tell apart and even harder to understand.

The pacing was slow. Especially towards Christmas in the first season, events seemed to drag out interminably. And then, having set the scene, things didn't really start to go anywhere until well into the second season. The ending came suddenly and didn't quite feel like an ending - if the reader could even fathom what was happening (and I'm not sure this reader quite managed it). The writing was quite downbeat which fitted well with the dreariness of the footballers' lives, but tended to add to the feeling that this was going on for a bit too long.

Oh, and as for "Town"... I never did quite believe in it. Clearly designed to be a neutral generic - on the south coast, playing in green and red (a colour combination unknown in England), recently promoted from the Conference. But nobody refers to a football club as Town. United, perhaps. City or Villa. But not Town. And did we really believe that someone who had only ever appeared a couple of times as a substitute for the local League 2 outfit would be recognised wherever he went?

A Natural is quite good - very good in parts - but it just doesn't quite deliver on the high promise of the opening pages.
Profile Image for Fin.
50 reviews8 followers
July 19, 2020
Men’s football is still not ready for its first gay player. Raisin’s raw account of the grim realities of the lower leagues is reminiscent of football in the 1980s, before it’s commercialisation. It’s a dog-eat-dog world bereft of the glitz and glamour often associated with the profession.

He paints a world with a vast array of masculine identities, revealing how commonplace men’s suffering is, highlighting the absence of avenues for its release. Many cut isolated figures, with no-one to turn to.

“A problem shared is a problem halved”, right? Not to Tom Pearman (the protagonist)! Desperate to conceal his sexuality, his journey towards self-acceptance is excellent, torturous writing that has the reader fidgeting as they relive the throes of his dilemma.

The intense interiority of the novel is explicated in the characters’ thoughts, often those left unsaid to the group are the most telling, and Raisin is unrivalled in his ability to portray the awkwardness of social interactions. For instance, when depicting the frequent coach journeys to distant away games, Tom carefully curates a selection of video to discuss with his team mates as conversation starters, but pretends to stumble across them randomly whilst scrolling, in order to hide his artifice. Or when Raisin describes Leah’s frustration at finally coming up with something witty to say, but expressing regret that the conversation has moved on by this point. These little details paint an increasingly convincing backdrop for the story to take place.

Raisin illustrates there is little understanding of the structural position of the gay footballer, who Pearman comes to represent. Teammates regularly call each other “faggots”, but reassure Tom that they “don’t really mean it”; parents of the player use anachronisms to describe it as “funny business”, and come across as disappointed when they can’t understand why they weren’t confided in. At Boardroom level, their press releases blatantly adopt the hallmarks of a diversity exercise and remain hollow, stuffed with platitudes. A cursory rainbow flag is wedged in by the disabled supporters’ corner of the stadium, symbolising the marginalisation of outsiders in the game, and later it’s removed to little fanfare.

Ultimately, this is an environment where harassment and bullying are normalised in the name of ‘bonding’ and ‘banter’. This is a place where the hyper-sexuality of the alphas in the group deem that exposing their genitalia at inappropriate and shocking moments is ‘normal’, but when team mates hug for a second too long, this elicits scowls from their teammates, and insults from the terraces.
Profile Image for Eric Sutton.
349 reviews1 follower
April 17, 2022
Ross Raisin's A Natural is a novel of parallel themes running through a single story. First is the difficulty of professional football in England's lower divisions, where the misfortune of an injury or the whims of a mercurial manager can seal one's fate. The footballing sequences, carrying us across the peaks and valleys of two seasons, makes for exciting reading (or listening, in my case) and, as much as I understood it, seems quite accurate, from the descriptions of positional moves to the chants from the supporters. Second, the novel follows the interior lives of four characters struggling with personal identity: Tom, the protagonist, who realizes he is gay in a macho sport that does not allow for it; Liam, his lover, whose dream as a footballer has dried up but who immerses himself in the game nonetheless; Chris, whose career is teetering on a knife's edge and whose insecurities consume him; and Leah, Chris' wife, whose grave misgivings about the choices she's made bring her to a moment of reckoning. (I feel like I'm writing a blurb for a book jacket). Anyway, it's a compelling story that does not rely solely on one's understanding of football to enjoy it. It definitely debunks the fraudulent notion that equates male sport with heterosexuality. Unfortunately, the game has not yet reached a point where players, clubs, and supporters can accept gay athletes. A Natural exposes the damaging effects that that brand of discrimination has on players, leaving them with a choice of accepting themselves or living their dreams. As it stands now, both cannot exist concurrently.

*a note: I would read the book instead of listen to it. The narrator's dialogue when voicing different characters was pretty awful.
Profile Image for Gerbrand.
293 reviews11 followers
July 31, 2022
A Natural speelt zich af in de Engelse voetbalcompetitie. Dat wil zeggen het laagste prof-niveau. Ross Raisin (de film God’s Own Country is gebaseerd op zijn debuutroman) weet heel goed die voetbalwereld invoelbaar te maken.

Allemaal jongens van onder de 20 die een droom najagen: spelen in de Premier League. Ook op dit niveau is de druk echter enorm. De concurrentie onderling. De prestaties op het veld, zowel individueel als collectief. Nieuwe spelers die komen en dus een bedreiging vormen voor de positie van de huidige spelers. Speel ik of zit ik op de bank. De fans. Familie en vrienden van de spelers. De blessures. De jolijt in de kleedkamer. De internetfora. Twitter. De trainer. Raisin gebruikt al deze elementen en dat geeft het eigenlijke verhaal, de met zijn seksualiteit worstelende 19-jarige Tom Pearman, een prima decor. Het einde is verrassend. Ietwat afgeraffeld (ik moest de laatste pagina’s twee keer lezen om het goed te begrijpen) maar toch geloofwaardig als het om Tom gaat. Minder geloofwaardig, en vandaar dat ik niet verder dan 3 sterren kom, is het subplot waarin we de captain van het team, Chris Easter, en zijn vrouw Leah volgen.

Jan Donkers gaf dit boek 4 sterren in NRC. En ook The Guardian was enthousiast. Ik denk wel dat je een klein beetje om sport of liever voetbal moet geven om dit boek te waarderen. In het Nederlands door De Bezige Bij uitgegeven als Een Natuurtalent).
Profile Image for Cindy.
145 reviews28 followers
January 9, 2018
Pretty darned good read! Although I'm a massive football fan, that's definitely not a prerequisite to enjoy this book. Ross Raisin successfully builds a world where tension, excitement, and soul crushing angst can be felt by all (even non sports fans). There's something about football. It gets in your blood. You can feel it long after walking off the field for the last time. I know I still do. But this story is about so much more than football. It's about friends, rivalries, ambition, and working hard to not lose your good stuff. Also, it’s a story about a young man trying to understand himself and find his way in the world. It's tough enough coming to grips with who you are in this life. It's particularly tough when the house you seem to fit in (and have no choice in) is the house that is the butt of cruel jokes. A place where you feel most at home yet all alone, and, (cherry on top) it can destroy your career if anyone finds out. You can lose everything. Ummm, yea. Raisin did a pretty fine job. Five loud and proud stars.
Profile Image for Steve Green.
105 reviews
August 20, 2022
I like the writing style of Ross, for the most part, and the subject matter appealed to me. A world of football, dealing with the subject of homosexuality within it, and the problems that there are - unfathomably - still. And it does that well. It highlights those issues and how embarrassingly regressive football is, but what it doesn’t do (at least didn’t for me) is do it with any sense of endearment to the protagonist. Perhaps I’m missing something nuanced, but he is so, so unlikeable. A selfish, entitled man-child that I just did not care for. He’s played-off against an antagonist that is equally loathsome, but if there’s some way we’re supposed to root for Tom, I missed it. Perhaps that was the point, that we’re supposed to only really feel any empathy toward his boyfriend. I was left with the feeling that he was better off without Tom in any case. As I say, the story is a good one, told well, but the insistence on Tom being cast as a bit of a douchebag didn’t make it a page-turner.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Jonathan.
897 reviews38 followers
January 12, 2022
An excellent novel about a closeted young footballer at the start of his promising career in a minor English football club. Well observed characters, a plot that is (almost scarily) very believable and a naturalistic style that suits the subject perfectly. At a time when more top flight sports people are coming out this book makes it easy to see why it is often such a personal struggle, and for some will continue to be so.
4 reviews
February 22, 2022
Great book though it is a slow burn if you prefer a faster-paced novel. I am American and know very little about "football" but that was not a barrier in enjoying the book. May have helped to know some but it doesn't take away from understanding the story.

There is a reveal towards the end of the book that doesn't feel necessary. Or, maybe I am dumb and do not understand what it was trying to convey.

Overall, enjoyed the experience of reading.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
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