Eyrie by Tim Winton
Penguin/ Hamish Hamilton
From the Blurb
Tom Keely's reputation is in ruins. And that's the upside.
Divorced and unemployed, he's lost faith in everything precious to him. Holed up in a grim highrise, cultivating his newfoundisolation, Keely looks down at a society from which he has retired hurt and angry. He's done fighting the good fight and past caring.
But even in his seedy flat, ducking the neighbours, he's not safe from entanglement. All it takes is an awkward encounter in the lobby. A woman from his past, a boy the likes of which he's never met before. Two strangers leading a life beyond his experience and into whose orbit he falls despite himself.
What follows is a heart-stopping, groundbreaking novel for our times- funny, confronting, exhilarating and haunting. Inhabited by unforgettable characters, Eyrie asks how, in an impossibly compromised world, we can ever hope to do the right thing.
How exactly does one review a Tim Winton novel? I've grown up reading them, from Bugalugs Bum Theif and Blueback through to Cloudstreet and Dirt Music. He's won the Miles Franklin three times. He is the first name that springs to mind when people talk about the best of the West. And I'm pleased to tell you that with Eyrie he's done it again.
Eyrie is suitably Wintonian, despondent about the state of society and peopled with characters from the school of hard knocks. This is a novel set in a place close to my heart- Fremantle- but it is a more grizzled and pessimistic view, although not without humour to the portrayal. Winton writes about him character Tom fighting his way through buskers just to get a decent cup of coffee, the drunks and the deros, the fish and chips in Fisherman's Harbour, the esplanade, it's all there. And while I don't necessarily share his bleak view, I recognise it and it moves me.
The story itself is understated but complex. Words are not wasted, and every action is well motivated. Characters are consistent and real. In particular, I am drawn to the figure of Kai, the little boy whose library going and reading habits are all too familiar. His grandmother, Gemma, is once again not a dazzling heroine but a cigarette sucking former beauty down on her luck, almost reminiscent of Dirt Music's Georgie Jutland. I've heard Winton called misogynistic before, and perhaps if this is how he sees his female leads I can see why. Gemma's former prettiness has been her downfall, and she is stuck in a dead end life of visiting her drug addict daughter, battling her drug dealing son in law, looking after Kai, and stacking shelves at Woolworths. I struggle to think of a Winton heroine who ever finds much success in her goals, but I am sure there is one. No, not misogynistic then, just observing, giving a voice to these women who shrink quietly into their dead ends. And focussing on the man's point of view, rather than presuming he knows how these women think.
Tom's back story is teasingly underplayed. Winton follows the golden rule- a back story should never overshadow the present. He leaves us the facts, shows us the effect and moves on with this new story, leaving us with the sense that life, and strife, goes on. Tom is the classic flawed hero- grizzled and possibly no longer good looking, hairy, drunk, depressed, and achingly human. When Gemma and Kai come into his life, he makes them the family he was denied by his cheating ex-wife, and uses them to plug the gaps and stem the pain of still loving her.
Eyrie is a wonderful book but it is also confronting and somewhat sad. I think it will win the Miles Franklin in 2014, but that's just this blogger's opinion.
It is published in October 14 and is available to pre-order at all good bookstores.