Tag Archives: contemporary fiction

book review: Eyrie by Tim Winton

Standard

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: No Place Like Home by Caroline Overington

Standard

no Place like home - Random House

the author and the book

Caroline Overington is an award-winning investigative journalist that has turned her hand to successfully writing contemporary Australian novels. No Place Like Home was published under the banner of ‘A Bantam Book by Random House Australia’ in 2013. It follows other novels, Sisters of Mercy, Matilda is Missing, Ghost Child and I Came to Say Goodbye.

the blurb

“Shortly after 9.30am, a young man walks into Surf City, Bondi’s newest shopping complex. He’s wearing a dark grey hoodie – and a bomb around his neck…………….” (short version)

the review

Written with journalistic sensibility this tense drama is set in a shopping centre and involves ‘ordinary people’ that we all could interact with on a daily basis – it could just be the topic of a report we watch unfold in the nightly news.  Told from the view of Police Chaplain, Paul Doherty we hear the often untold story of those involved in a siege, this one involving a bomb attached to a refugee in the unlikely setting of a lingerie shop.  However, this story goes beyond the issues of refugees in Australia, it explores what it is to be human in a society trying to understand itself.

Although not the overt purpose of the book, morality is explored in a number of situations, particularly, in the treatment of the refugee Ali Khan by a number of the characters, and in general as someone who has been invited to live in our country.  It also looks at other moral issues such as fidelity, honesty, valour, materialism and our beliefs.

Some characters that we meet in the novel we can empathise with and others just make us shake our heads, but they are all integral to this novel.  Paul Doherty tries to explain the twist and turns of the circumstances and gives us someone who we can relate to in this day and age – questioning his faith and place in the world.  Among the characters that Paul introduces us to are the five people in the lingerie shop (why are they all in a lingerie shop?…. you will have to read to find out) and throughout the book we learn more about each, there is Mouse the ‘bunny eared’ shop assistant, Kimmie a nail technician, Roger a real estate salesman, Mitchell a schoolboy on a mission to buy a video game and of course, Ali Khan who has the bomb attached to him.

I found themes of loss and regret entwined with the more complex issues of the plot.  The loss of innocence, commitment, trust and ultimately the life we should value. We also see how hindsight plays its role in how we remember and perceive our life.

favourite quote

Although not directly related to the central motif of the siege, I thought this quote lets us know that it is definitely Australian and also gives us the sense of the loss that is brought to bear in this novel.

He could tell by looking that the armchair had been Amy’s father’s, and only his: there was something about the way the material at the end of the seat was worn away, where the old man’s hands had gripped for years, watching Channel Nine News and World Series Cricket.”(p.247)

Australia is suffering from perplexity around the issue of refugees, what is it we should be doing? It would seem there are more opinions than solutions, but Overington’s treatment of the issue within the non-threatening environment of fiction is able to make us consider what we think about the issue. It may not provide the solution but at least it gets it into the front of our minds so we keep thinking about what it is we should be doing and maybe rethink some of the things we have been doing.

most intriguing character – Ali Khan

What do we think of refugees?  What do they think of us?  From Paul Doherty’s perspective we are able to see how many of the characters interacted with Ali Khan. We hear about the treatment he receives not only in Australia as a refugee but as an outcast of his own country.  What makes this character so intriguing is that we never actually hear his side of the story.

Written in a quite distinctive yet simple prose the book offers what could be called an ‘easy’ read.  Not a 600 page epic but a ‘slice of life’ in 352 pages.  It is a book that engages you in a short space of time then carries you at a measured pace to be able to complete within a few hours – if you really want to – I lingered longer because I wanted to enjoy it a little bit more.

What I find with Overington’s novels, is that they stir emotions and this book is no exception. Consider how you would feel if it was your son, daughter, husband, niece, friend, employee under threat and what would you think of the person you believe is threatening them?

I always think that a good book is a book that makes you ‘feel’, whether it is joy, sadness, anger or just generally questioning what life is about and No Place Like Home does exactly that.

For more information about Caroline Overingtonhttp://carolineoverington.com