Category Archives: book review

book review: Eyrie by Tim Winton

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winton eyrie

the author and the book
Who doesn’t know Tim Winton. OK, if you don’t. Tim Winton is an iconic contemporary Australian author. Having earned his “chops” (a Winton-ism) through both study and practice, he holds a very substantial place on the Australian literary landscape. Words are his art and you will always be astounded by his talent. Other books include, one of my favourites, Cloudstreet, along with Dirt Music, The Riders, An Open Swimmer, Shallows, Breath and The Turning which has recently been made into a 3 hour series of the 17 short stories.

Published in 2013 by Hamish Hamilton (imprint of Penguin Books) it is 424 pages of gut wrenching drama, so not a breezy, little read by any stretch.

the blurb
“Tom Keely’s reputation is in ruins. And that is the upside.
Divorced and unemployed, he’s lost faith in everything precious to him. Holed up in a grim highrise, cultivating his newfound isolation, Keely looks down at a society from which he’s retired hurt and angry. He’s done fighting the good fight, and well past caring.” (excerpt only)

the review
Did I like this book? – in some ways, no. Did I respect this book? – absolutely, yes. I don’t think the subject for this book was meant to have us walking away in a cloud of fantasy of a utopian world (may be an understatement), but it certainly left us in no doubt about the circumstances. Tim Winton is gritty, and so is this story. It doesn’t powder coat the realities of the life of the protagonist, and that you have to admire.
Tim Winton’s sense of place and characterisation are the strongest attributes of this novel (as with his others).

No one and I mean no one can evoke place like Winton. If you don’t get a sense of Western Australia and its life from a Winton book you need to rethink your reading skills. We get to understand the micro-environment in which Keely lives, as well as the macro. From the descriptions of the apartment building (flats) to the descriptions of Perth and Freemantle you cannot be anywhere else, it may not be the description from the latest tourist brochure but it certainly paints a picture. Such descriptions as “And there she was at his feet. Good old Freo. Lying dazed and forsaken at the rivermouth, the addled wharfside slapper whose good old bones showed through despite the ravages of age and bad living. She was low-rise but high-rent, defiant and deluded in equal measure……” (p.5). Beautiful!!!

Winton’s characters are drawn like portraits on an artist’s easel. We get to know them through all their positive qualities and equally their foibles (and there are many). You will have to decide how you see Keely as a character, I vacillated between really liking him for his persistence to wanting to give him a good kick up the rump to get him to see reality, his disillusionment is palpable. But that is the virtue of Winton’s ability to draw his characters. Gemma the ‘down on her luck’ early age custodial grandmother and her enigmatic grandson, Kai provide a fantastic frustration for Keely and also a heavy-duty human experience. And although I loved the elusive sense of Kai’s character, I was drawn to Doris, Keely’s mother. Winton wants us to respect Doris, as she is of a generation of real grit and character, (as were his parents) not softened by the temptations of current society. A strong woman that loves her son but can also see his flaws, “Doris could read him in five languages and scan him in Braille. Since his cataclysmic truth-telling, he’d felt the eloquence of her every withheld judgement and longsuffering stare” (p.41), she has understandable fears and yet a determination to make a better world.

There are familiar themes that run through Eyrie. Faith is a big one and having not so long ago reading The Turning, it is easier to recognise in this book. We also see class (see favourite quote), family, the decline of our society and even gun ownership among the key issues explored. And it wouldn’t be a Winton novel if it didn’t contemplate the environment and in this case examine the effect of the mining industry.
In the end you are dropped off a cliff and left to wonder, satisfying?…….. maybe not, but is it an author’s job to completely satisfy you or should you take some control and ponder what the present and future may hold?

I go back to the question I originally posed, did I like this book, it really doesn’t matter in the end because it is a must read if you love Australian contemporary fiction.

favourite quote
Other than those already mentioned, I thought a quote/s from Keely’s mother when having quite a discussion with Keely around the subject of class, was wonderful.  “Tom love you have such romantic ideas about the working class.”…………………………………….”The further you got away from Blackboy Crescent, the more you wore your blue collar on your sleeve.”…………………………………….”But why wear it like a badge of honour? As if your achievement rather than the result of government policy? The way all these people here seem to think the state is swimming in money because they invented iron ore, planted it, watered it. It’s sheer luck. And it’s luck that got you to university free of charge. You’re the product of an historical moment, a brief awakening. Tom Keely: My Struggle – it doesn’t wash, love. You were generationally privileged. You’re just another sulky Whitlam heir.” (p.211-212)

If you want to keep up with what is happening with Tim Winton try his facebook page https://www.facebook.com/timwintonauthor?fref=ts

book review: Mr Wigg by Inga Simpson

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the author and the book

Inga Simpson has an affinity with nature.  She has been a professional writer within the public service, writes non-fiction articles, short stories and of course now, Mr Wigg.  Currently undertaking a PhD in English Literature in Queensland, Inga also teaches writing and is focusing on a nature writing project.  I understand that she has previously written a novel but I could not find it referenced anywhere.  Mr Wigg was published by Hachette Australia in 2013 and is just a small bite at 296 luscious pages.

the blurb

“It’s the summer of 1971, not far from the stone-fruit capital of New South Wales, where Mr Wigg lives on what is left of his family farm, Mrs Wigg has been gone almost a year and he thinks about here every day. He misses his daughter, too, and wonders, when he’ll see her again.” (excerpt only)

the review

Maybe it is just me or where I was at the time Mr Wigg was published, but I wonder if the book was launched in the quiet, unassuming way of Mr Wigg himself.  I had heard of the book release but it certainly didn’t receive the fanfare it probably should have, as an Australian beauty.

Soft and sweet as the fruit it explores, as I read this book I had an overwhelming sense of nostalgia.  Not because I grew up on a farm but because so many of the images and emotions bring the period back to life, engaging all of my senses – heart and head were pumping as I worked through the seasons with Mr Wigg. Harking back to the 70’s when life seemed to be so much simpler, yet the complexities of relationships and families are ever present, it provided a backdrop at once familiar yet different to my own life experience.

Mr Wigg is a man of routine, so much of him reminds me of all that is good about the past.  There is no pretence or expansive neediness. He just gets on with it. Through all of the ups and downs of life, each day seems to bring him a gift of the land and he gives as much back.  We learn a little bit more about many of the fruits we take for granted now and in a very charming way.  Who knew that fruit could have such personalities!

The act of entwining a fairy tale being told by Mr Wigg to his grandchildren into the narrative gives an almost otherworldly sense to everyday life. Drawing parallels between the fruit trees he nurtures and the magic of the story gives us a real sense of Mr Wigg.  You cannot help but feel that you would want this man as a Grandfather for your children. Love is infused in his daily life, whether it be the love of his wife, his children, grandchildren or his beloved orchard.

It is also a story about lost opportunities which we should all heed when going about our daily lives and the search for what we believe is important. What price do we pay for the ‘things’ we want and is it really worth it in the end? The difficulties Mr Wigg faces with his family could be our very own, not necessarily with the same players or circumstances but with raw emotion of the relationships we must deal with as a family.

A book that can cover you like a warm quilt on a Winter’s afternoon or a breathe of sweet, peach scented-air on a Summer’s day, it provides a feeling of comfort as you discover the story of Mr Wigg.

favourite quote

There were so many ‘little pearlers’ through the book that I had difficulty choosing just one. You really can’t go past Persimmons and Peaches talking to one another, but in saying that the advice that his mother gave Mr Wigg before he married resonated with me. ‘Don’t forget she’s her own person, son. She had a whole life before she met you.’ Then with the benefit of age and wisdom “He sometimes wondered, now, what his mother had given up, and who she had been before she became a wife and a mother.(p.272) ” A thought for us all.

most lasting image

You know when you finish reading a book, sometimes there is an image that continues to sit with you for a long time? It doesn’t always happen but when it does it really hangs on. From Mr Wigg I have so many images that still are inhabiting my mind space but one that seems to be the brightest is Mr Wigg dancing around in the kitchen “in his socks, while his dinner cooked” reminiscing about the times he would go dancing with his wife.   

why it is important to read cover to cover…………………………

One of things that appealed to me was the simplicity of the cover of Mr Wigg.  Its bright orange background was stunning but the font used for the title, a little inconsistent in density intrigued me.  Luckily, it was explained within the last pages of the book. The font was taken from scanned images of embossed gardening labels giving them the disintegrated look that you would expect in the garden environment.  To me this shows great care and thought was put into this book not just in the content but the whole design and gives it an authenticity.

For more information about Inga Simpson or Mr Wigg’s facebook page –

http://www.ingasimpson.com.au/

https://www.facebook.com/MrWigg2013