Well, I devoured it, it would be fair to say. It took me about the same amount of time to read as Barracuda but the experience was so different. In my head, it was a kind of competition. First time I’ve read these two authors back-to-back. First time I’ve had it in my consciousness, some sort of question like ‘okay, let’s see who does it better.’
It was never a real question but to be fair, it’s also not really comparing apples with apples. Different books, different intentions. Different audiences too maybe.
Winton’s latest book is unlike his others, and this is a good thing. Not because the others weren‘t good, and not because this was necessarily better (though I think it might be better than Breath, I liked it more). I just like it when authors come up with new stuff, not write the same thing over and over. And it’s the first time I’ve noticed humour in his writing. I’m not sure because it’s only recently too I’ve seen him interviewed and heard the humour in his voice and tone. Now I can see it in his work. Was it there in Breath? Was it there in Dirt Music? I seem to remember it being there in Cloudstreet, but maybe I’m wrong about that.
I’ll tell you what I loved about it: I loved the gaps, the hints of something other, or several things other that were in operation. I loved that he either trusted his readers enough, or cared about us little enough, to not feel he had to tell us everything. I’m so sick of being told everything. I loved, as always, his description though I did think the hangover, the entree into the story, was too long and it got a bit weary-making, maybe deliberately so that we were with Tom Keely as he staggered around, blinding headache, towel dropping off as he tried, arse-in-air to work out what had made the wet patch on his carpet. I loved the characters, especially the main character Tom and his moments of humanity, the jarring depiction of the woman in his building Gemma and her strange seemingly prophetic grandson Kai. I also loved Tom’s mother. I kind of wished his sister was in the action, was present rather than being overseas on business. I did wonder why she was only half there.
I’m pretty sure Winton said he came up with the idea, or started having thoughts about this story, while working in a building similar to the Mirador, where Eyrie is set. He used a similar flat to write Breath in, or parts of it. Then for Eyrie I think he wrote it at his old house, where he and his family used to live. I’m imagining it is not in Fremantle, or Perth, but somewhere a bit more out of the city. I’ve heard people say, maybe it was Carey, that to write about a place, you have to be somewhere else. Maybe it was Christina Stead? I can’t remember. But it made sense to me. That to conjure it into the imagination better might take distance. I know when I lived overseas I would have very strong imagery about places back home. And now, thinking about Japan or Turkey, those places are vivid in my mind.
I know Winton starts to imagine his stories with place and then character. Was it really the case, that for him to write a country story from an urban flat, and then to write an urban story in a country house? How poetic if so, or how logical. To have to get that distance in the real world so the imaginative one can do its work.
I am planning a trip west next year for the Perth Writers Festival. To meet up with a blogging buddy, go to the festival and then a local one in Albany. To go to Winton Country. I can’t wait. I feel it’s another world over there and I am so excited to think I will see some of it.