In the series called “Writers on Writers” Australian Geraldine Brooks wrote about Tim Winton; a writer I greatly admire wrote about one of my very favorites. What a treat.
To prepare for the memorable trip we made to Australia in 2009 I read some of the books on Reading Matters’ list of 10 of her favorite novels from Australia. I recall vividly how much I loved the ones I read, especially Cloudstreet. It seemed a revelation to me: things happened! I learned new words! The writing was poetic! It is especially sweet to read that Geraldine Brooks loved his writing for the same qualities that touched me.
The importance of plot was most noticeable to me in the Australian novels I began to read, and that is especially the case with Tim Winton’s books. So often when I’ve written here about his books, it’s the captivating storytelling I mention. Geraldine Brooks notes that modern literary critics aren’t very interested in plot:
In his forensic study of the novel, How Fiction Works, James Wood, a New Yorker literary critic and Harvard professor, offers insights on character, dialogue, narrative voice, consciousness and language, but has bupkis to say about storytelling. Plot doesn’t warrant a chapter; it barely rates a mention. For Wood, it just doesn’t matter.
While I admire James Wood, that disregard for plot seems important.
Brooks had been gone from Australia for years by the time she happened upon Cloudstreet in a bookshop on a rainy day in London. She says, “Three pages into Cloudstreet and I could see it, smell it, taste it. Home. I could hear it: our idiom, in all its insouciant vitality, delivered with uncompromising fidelity. Australian writing.”
Along with the Australian nature of his writing, she appreciates his working class characters. The Pickles and Lamb families who share the house in Cloudstreet struck a chord with her own background. When she was young her parents paid their mortgage by renting rooms to a cast of characters who “spoke in the same cadences as the Lambs and the Pickles, existed in a similar state of precarity and struggle.” She adds, “This was no cringy putdown. These lives were also funny and passionate, full of imagination and yearning, glimmering with the possibility of transcendence.”
Brooks notes religion does not turn up in Australian fiction often or in her observation in American fiction. “Since religion has given us both Handel’s Messiah and abortion-clinic assassins, this aversion is striking. But Winton goes right there, into what Salmon Rushdie termed the religion-shaped hole in modern life.” I was struck by an expression of a religious sentiment by Ariel Lamb near the end of the book that speaks of the importance of Christianity in Winton’s life.
It was wonderful to relive the joy I found in Tim Winton’s books.
Geraldine Brooks, On Tim Winton, part of Writers on Writers series, Black, Inc., 76 pages, 2022 (I read the Kindle version).