Saturday, October 25, 2014

Review of Tim Winton's Eyrie

Tim Winton is one of my favourite authors and so it is always with a certain amount of anticipation that I read his latest offerings. Eyrie did not disappoint me. I think there are two types of Tim Winton novels. The first type, like Cloudstreet, has quite a detailed and dramatic plot, Cloudstreet being a multigenerational family drama. The second type has a sketchier plot but is heavy on the characters internal drama, with incredible prose that grips the reader and thrusts them into the main protagonist's mind and world. Eyrie is like this and I loved it.

The novel is about Tom Keely at a particular juncture in his life. He is divorced, jobless and becoming increasingly isolated from life busily going on around him. Eyrie provides a gorgeous metaphor for his situation, he is physically in an eyrie, in a rundown apartment at the top of a city high rise building, and he is emotionally cut off too. We meet him perhaps at his lowest point, where he is savagely hungover from a night of abusing prescription medication and alcohol.

Winton explores a number of other contemporary Australian issues through his character Tom. Tom used to be a successful environmental campaigner and advisor. He is now completely disillusioned with what is happening in his state of Western Australia, which for all intents and purposes is controlled by the mining industry. Winton does a brilliant job of exploring the ugliness of what this so called prosperity has done to some of Australia's cities which in a short number of years have received huge sums from the mining boon. I live on the other side of the country in the state of Queensland where similar issues have confronted some of the cities and towns here in the wake of mining success.

Most of Winton's novels are set in sun soaked Western Australia, Eyrie takes place in the city of Fremantle. Winton describes in searing detail what mining has done to this city in particular and Western Australia generally. Through the eye's of Tom, and the people he encounters, the reader also experiences what mining prosperity has done to the social conscience of the people; Winton is scathing and does not hold back in showing the underclass of broken people who barely exist away from the hipster haunts and shiny developments.

A woman, who used to be a neighbour of Tom's when he was a child, moves into his building with her grandson, and Tom is forced slowly but surely over the course of the novel, to move outside of his own suffering and connect again with the world. As much as the story is about the bigger issues of the cost of prosperity from the mining industry, it is also Tom's personal story. I was very moved by Tom and his struggle to forgive and connect. The supporting characters are multidimensional and vivid also. Tom's mother is especially good.

I loved this book. I like Winton's writing generally. His prose is visceral and in the readers face, or more correctly he puts the reader right in the body and mind of his characters, you can't escape. It's a completely nerve jangling experience. The pace of the novel rockets along. It is the best sort of page turner. I find his style unique. Winton is economical with his words and he knows how to write emotions up close and unleashed.

I think some readers have found this novel too dark, and that's okay, parts of the story are dark. I think it is also probably a testament to Winton's success and following that he seems to be at a point in his career where he can perhaps write the stories he feels really passionate about. Good on him I say. There is nothing wrong with a novel with a social and environmental conscience, especially when it is as engaging as this one.

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