This is my seventh Tim Winton book and I found that once again, I was captivated by this great storyteller.
The novel is set in Fremantle, port city for Perth, in Western Australia. The great recession is underway elsewhere while Australia is having boom times, thanks to mining (as it happens the time and place are similar to another Australian book I just read, Prime Cut). Location is a prominent feature, as it usually is in Tim Winton's novels, and Fremantle comes to life.
Tom Keely is living in a ratty high-rise having ended his career as an well-known environmentalist with a few minutes of public raging. "A decade and a half of supreme self-control and in a few minutes he'd rendered himself a rogue forever." I gather his indescretion involved unpleasant references to an actual mining figure in Western Australia, Gina Rinehart. I hesitate to describe her in a sentence; first, she might sue me, and then her story is so strange, you need this New Yorker article to get the flavor.
Tom discovers that a woman his family had rescued from her alcoholic father when she was a child was living a few doors down from him along with her grandson. Gemma idolized his parents, apparently with good reason. Despite their intervention, Gemma's life has not gone well: her daughter was jailed for drugs and she has been the parent for Kai, her 6-year-old grandson, for most of his life. Gemma involves Tom in her struggles to protect herself and Kai from his psychopathic father and his friends.
Tom, meanwhile, has his own troubles: he's mourning the end of his marriage, he's running out of money with few prospects of employment, and he is in denial about the neurological disfunction that is giving him headaches and blackouts. He regrets his inability to protect Gemma and Kai from the drug dealers demanding money, wondering why he doesn't have his father's "kindness with a backbone" mantra.
Why wasn't it simply there, bubbling up instantly the way anxiety did, the way this festival of second-guessing did? Couldn't blame that on too much school, too much soft-handed generational success. It was something lacking in him. Something in the shape of him. This empty thing he'd become.
That sounds more like a longing for a simpler past, where strength of will and fists could take care of more problems. I'm all in favor of second-guessing in the world we now inhabit.
Winton underscores the changes that money and boom times have on society. Tom has stopped reading newspapers, hearing television or radio news, or looking online, as whatever you read,
…would be another installment about the triumph of capital. One more fawning profile of a self-made iron heiress [Gina Rinehart, I presume] and he'd mix himself a Harpic Wallbanger and be done with it.
Tom's sainted mother who takes in the three refugees says
Money, she said with a sigh. They're right. It talks. But wouldn't it be lovely if now and then it had something interesting to say.
Mr. Booklog noted Dylan had something to say on the topic: "Money doesn't talk, it swears." And there's an earlier version of the sentiment: "Money doesn't talk, it screams."
The industrial momentum was feverish. Oil, gas, iron, gold, lead, bauxite and nickel — it was the boom of all booms, and in a decade it had taken hostage every institution from government to education. The media were bedazzled. There was pentecostal ectasy in the air, and to resist it was heresy.
Though this is certainly a dark take on the world with the corrosive effects of the mining boom and the murderous and drug-crazed pursuers; still, the characters were engaging and were lovingly portrayed. Then there's Winton's mesmerizing use of language and the complexity of his message.
Addenda: It's nice to see this wonderful writer reviewed in the New York Times.
I meant to mention the new verb I learned from this book. One of the drug-dealing toughs is described this way: "As he leant contemptuously against the doorjamb, he took the opportunity to reach into his trackpants to huffle his nuts."
Tim Winton, Eyrie, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2014, 432 pages (I read the kindle version).