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.
“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)
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.
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
- Eyrie, by Tim Winton – book review (theguardian.com)
- REVIEW: Eyrie By Tim Winton (Review by John Purcell) (booktopia.com.au)