Monday, 11 November 2013

Eyrie by Tim Winton

I've been putting off writing this review, simply because I'm not sure what to say about Tim Winton's Eyrie now that I've finished it.

Will this be a positive, negative review or a negative, positive review?

I thought if I sat with it for a few days some reviewing inspiration would strike, but it hasn't. I've done some research & read other reviews (which are nothing if not gushing and fawning in nature).

I even found out about Knut Hamsun, a Norwegian Nobel Prize (1920) winning author that Winton referenced a couple of times in Eyrie. Isaac Bashevis Singer says of Hamsun that he was  "the father of the modern school of literature in his every aspect—his subjectiveness, his fragmentariness, his use of flashbacks, his lyricism."

Hamsun pioneered the use of stream of consciousness and interior monologue. He was anti-civilisation and often wrote about vagabonds, itinerant strangers & outcasts. Melancholy resignation and loss of youth were other reoccurring themes (thanks Wikipedia & Nobel.org)!

This information was helpful as it was obvious that Winton has written a similar style of novel with Eyrie.

I'm very fond of Tim Winton.
I loved Cloudstreet - enough to reread it a couple of times.
I adored Dirt Music but found the ending over-dramatic.
I loved the scenery and descriptions in Breath and I always enjoy his writing - his ability to make the Australian vernacular sound poetic is praise-worthy indeed!

The language in Eyrie was as compelling as usual. The summer scenes in Fremantle and Perth were authentic and atmospheric,  but the angry, lost male was familiar territory and the anti-urban, anti-environmental movement theme felt laboured.

Winton's depiction of class, mining companies and politics were very particular to WA but the class struggle theme is ultimately universal and one that many Australians spend a lot of time denying.

And this time the ending was so undramatic that a week later I can't even remember how it finished up!

To say that I wanted to get Keely by the scruff of his neck and give him a good shake & tell him to wake up to himself was an understatement.
I wanted to send him off to the doctor's for a thorough check-up & book him in to see a good psychologist.

He'd spent his whole life chasing after lost causes and was unable to recognise when his own life was heading down that same road. Tom Keely is a frustrating character, likeable enough beneath the bluster and despair, but so unmotivated and so lacking in personal insight that he makes you want to scream.  I kept thinking, he was waiting around for his father to come back and save him from himself somehow.

Eyrie was a frustrating read at times. I kept looking for signs that Keely was going to get some insight into his behaviours or become responsible for his own well-being. I also know that there are no magic wands for the Kai's of this world, but I wanted to feel some hope that he could break the cycle.

I don't need my stories to be wrapped up nicely with a pretty bow and all the loose ends tied up. But I do need a purpose if not a resolution. Insight, growth, change, forward movement, hope....anything but nothing.

There were elements to this book that were rewarding and satisfying, but ultimately it somehow fell flat. The promise was not delivered, the hope was lost, the confusing, bleak, muddle won...but maybe that's the way that Tim Winton wanted it all along.

This post is part of Jenny Matlock's Alphabe-Thursday meme for the letter E.

13 comments:

  1. One of the first reviews of this book on the blog-o-sphere. Glad I read yours.
    There was a lot of 'hype' about this book and I wanted to try Tim Winton but I went the 'classic' route with Nevil Shute. The result of which is... I will definitely read Winton, but perhaps another of his books. Thanks for your insightful remarks!

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  2. This was so interesting to read. Thanks for the review Brona. I have heard hints of lacklustre response that nobody is quite prepared to say aloud (eg I have seen a review of another book that makes a backhanded comment about Eyrie). It's like Winton has become untouchable, impossible to criticise...Perhaps I am reading too much into it but I wonder if it is party because, as you mention, we are so uncomfortable about class. It's as if Winton is the Eliza Dolittle of Australian literature and the educated literati can't criticise him without looking like snobs. (And I just used the word 'literati' so clearly I am fine with looking like a snob).

    By the way, I am happy to go on record as saying his stuff is not my favourite. I have read one book I loved and one I hated. With so many other enticing things to read I have to say I haven't ever been tempted to read more. So I am not particularly invested in what he writes but I am interested to hear what other people think of him as an author, and also what they think of this book.

    Wow, this comment is longer than some blog posts I have written!

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    1. Thanks for that GB. I also struggled with the whole "Tim Winton is untouchable" syndrome as I was writing this review ...which is partly why it took so long.
      It's also curious to note that of all the copies of Eyrie I've sold in the past month, I've not had one single customer come back to say how they went with it.

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  3. I haven't leapt at reading Eyrie, but I do generally tend to read most Wintons at some stage so I imagine I shall get to this one too. I haven't read all that much about the book itself either so was very interested to read your responses Brona. It must be wonderful working in a book shop and hearing so much about what other readers think of the books they buy.

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    1. After completely burning out from teaching, I still count my blessings every day I go to work in a bookshop Louise - and it has now been 5 years!
      Rainy days in particular are so much nicer in a cosy bookshop than in a preschool room with 20 hyperactive preschoolers :-)

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  4. I'm glad to see someone else shares my opinion - I love Tim Winton and I was frustratingly let down for the first time, with this book. It never seemed to get anywhere... I found Keely an unlikeable character. I didn't believe he could develop such an attachment to Kai - where did that come from? I liked Gemma - she seemed the only authentic character, although Doris was quite good too. The bit toward the end where he is 'trying to take care of business" and scare off the thugs was just preposterous! What kind of adult goes around painting a toy gun and honestly thinks he's going to have a good outcome? It felt like nothing really happened in the book - he wasn't able to move forward or even examine his own motivations or actions... He acted erratically and foolishly and his Mum had to tell him off. What's that all about? The only thing I liked were the descriptions of Freo and the river. Such a disappointment...

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    1. The gun scene was truly absurd - it read like some corny, dodgy, comic piece in a 70's sitcom!

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    2. I completely believed his attachment to Kai. He mourned the baby that his wife aborted, not his but wanted it anyway, mourned his marriage and what could have been and then along comes this little lost puppy, another lost cause for him to fight for. Remember his childhood norm was his family taking in the lost and the broken (into their nest and under their wing if you want to keep the bird theme going)

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  5. I appreciate the honesty you expressed in your review...

    I don't think I would enjoy this particular book.

    Excellent post for the letter "E"!

    Thanks for linking.

    A++

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  6. Thank you for your honest appraisal of what I found to be a flat "dare to read to the end" attempt by Winton. My husband read Eyre first, having enjoyed other Winton books. After finishing the book, he shrugged in frustration, handing it to me and stating that if I could make any sense of it to please let him know, because he felt thoroughly lost in the ending. He even re-read the last chapter thinking he had missed a few pages. I, however, persisted through the aforementioned muddle and confusion and reaching the conclusion of a narrative so bogged down in trying to produce one creditable character, I was left dissatisfied and a little annoyed by Winton's apparent lack of consideration for the reader. This is a self-satisfying book, written I suspect for the author's gratification or perhaps his mislead perception that he can do no wrong. I submit that the ending ran out of steam as if Winton himself had become so lost, he simply gave up. This is not the first Tim Winton novel I have read but I fear it may very well be my last.

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    1. I had a brief visit to Freo in January, which brought some flashbacks of Keely wandering the streets and his rather harsh views on the changes that have happened there to mind. It's hard not to feel like you're in a Tim Winton novel when in WA!
      Curiously quite a bit of the story has remained with me (although the ending is still a blur) and it feels like Keely has taken on more substance with time.
      2 of my colleagues loved the book a lot, but the best I can say, is that I loved some of the writing, but the story (& characters) fell down flat.

      Thanks for taking the time to write such a thoughtful comment :-)

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  7. I have just read the book after it was selected by my book club (by a democratic voting process).
    My only experience of Tim Winton in the past was reading half of 'Cloudstreet' and giving it away because I couldn't cope with the negativity.
    This latest offering is more of the same.
    I have little patience with victims, and Tom Keely was the classic 'the world owes me a living' example!
    I have no idea what Tim Winton was trying to do with this novel as there was no apparent progress in Tom's journey: he started out as a miserable loser, and seemed to end up in exactly the same place, having flirted with the idea of helping someone less fortunate in the process, but obviously deciding that it was too much like hard work!
    As a former English teacher, I tend to be fairly discriminating as far as quality of writing is concerned and I am at a loss to see what all the fuss is about with Winton's writing. I find it very contrived in parts, and the lack of punctuation meant I was often having to reread sections of text to work out who was saying what. It certainly interrupts the flow of the narrative.
    I'll be very interested to see what the rest of my book club think of it, though I already know that there are a couple of fanatic Winton fans.

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  8. I found Eyrie most disappointing, though having abandoned 'Cloudstreet' halfway through because I couldn't take any more of Tim Winton's negativity, I shouldn't have been surprised.
    I think Winton has, as someone has already observed, 'become untouchable, impossible to criticise', and perhaps some people read his current offering in light of his public profile rather than looking at it objectively.
    I have very little patience with victims, so I found the main character, Tom Keely, extremely irritating and self-absorbed. As the novel progressed (ever so slowly), I expected his background to be revealed as involving horrendous abuse and deprivation, which would in some way explain his current negative, self-destructive outlook. Finding that he came from a loving middle-class home, with parents who were kind and caring towards him and others, I kept wondering why he was considered a worthy subject by Winton and his whole approach to life and ultimate lack of redemption frankly left me cold.
    The only upside of this experience was that I now know to avoid Tim Winton novels in future!

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