Eyrie by Tim Winton
I'm a big fan of Tim Winton. His writing is sublime. No one quite describes Australia with as much colour, sight, sound and smells as he does (okay, maybe Alex Miller, they're both sublime, different though). So Eyrie was a Christmas present and jumped close to the top of the pile.
It's a big book, bigger than any of the others I've read, although maybe it's just the packaging. And when I opened it up, I started to laugh. The first line is, "So." We're told how important a first sentence is, how it has to attract the reader and draw people in. This one made me chuckle. It didn't draw me in or attract my attention. It made me put the book down so I could write a blog post about the first sentence! And then I thought more about it. It's quite an Australian opening to a story like a yarn or a joke or a tall tale. I've had old blokes in country pubs star a conversation like that. "So. Where ya from?" Or "So. How far ya travelled?" Or "So. What ya up to?" It's this kind of thing that I think Winton does best—subtly capture characters, the lexicon, the 'feel' of living in Australia.
I have to admit that I struggled with Eyrie. By page 20, I was wondering what had happened to Winton. It seemed wordy, over-written and nothing was happening. Looking back, I can see this was the character of Tom Keeley. He's wordy and nothing was happening for him, and he was stuck in his head, caught in loops of ‘woe is me’. I didn't quite understand that at the time and was getting rather frustrated. But it's Winton, so I persisted.
This is my third WA book in a couple of weeks—a couple of Ninja's books (Lily and Georgina’s) and this one. Having spent a few weeks in WA I could see the places they spoke of, and felt I knew what it was like. That was special. Here's a snippet from Eyrie:
[Perth]...was only half an hour up the Swan River, as close and incomprehensible as a sibling. For while Perth had bulldozed its past and burned its doubts in bluster, Fremantle nursed its grievances and scratched its arse.
That's what struck me when travelling from Perth to Fremantle—Perth has no history, Fremantle has kept it all.
Be warned, in this story there are no quotation marks for dialogue. It didn't bother me at all, but I noticed a few people on Goodreads were quite annoyed by it.
Winton's words paint the most amazing pictures. Like this example where he's talking about a towel:
...it brought to mind the honest, plain, mildewy scent of hippies...it hadn't quite graduated to the full Gorgonzola.
Doesn’t that give you the exact smell of the towel? And this passage where he describe galahs gives the exact mimicry of them
Galahs...they were the backpackers of the skies—rowdy, rooting freeloaders, God love ‘em.
And, in a throwaway line, he calls a newspaper a "Rupert-rag", which perfectly captures the media monopoly of Australia today.
I admit that I don't like the main character, Keeley. I think he's a weak man who is at one moment self-deprecating, the next moment putting someone else down to make himself feel better. He has no idea about the world at large, yet he thinks he's there to save it. He has no idea about the struggles people go through and can't really empathise with people, yet he's traumatised by habitat destruction, wildlife extinction, bribery and corruption among the rich. I find him too odd. That he cares so much about things he can do little about, yet the people that he should be able to help, he has no clue as to how to help them. He can't even help himself.
Keeley's character is written in such a way that this is a 'feel sorry for me' book (which I hate) but I kept expecting him to do something, like wake up to himself, help someone, or interact on a decent level.
I didn't like the characters or the story, but I love Tim Winton's writing and his views on the world. I love the way he captures my Australia. I think Eyrie will stay with me, not because of the story but because of Winton's subtle brilliance. The more I think about this book, the more impressed I am. I just have to get beyond the superficial. Only the very best writers can carry this off.
Ninja Rating: 4.5 Stars