Posts Tagged ‘Tim Winton’

Richard Flanagan is an admirable fellow because of his generosity and outspoken progressive political views. His latest and prize-winning novel draws on his father’s experience as a prisoner of war of the Japanese in WW2. Along with thousands of other allied POWs he toiled as a slave labourer under atrocious conditions in the Thai jungle on the infamous Burma railway construction.

The central character Dorrigo Evans resembles Weary Dunlop, legendary leader of POWs who rallied his men and cared for them medically as best he could under the deprivation and torture inflicted by the Japanese army. It is also a love story, with two women, Amy and Ella, intertwined in the war narrative. The social mores and attitudes of 1940s Australia are well drawn.

The book’s title is a translation of a famous haiku poem, and Flanagan portrays the mindset and Emperor worship of the Japanese officers and guards, and their despised Korean underlings. In omniscient author mode he gets into all their heads, which is interesting enough. Eventually though I was shell-shocked by all the gruesome cruelty and exhausted by the intensive psychological and philosophical outpourings of all the characters involved. I’m not sure it all hangs together properly either.

Flanagan spent twelve years on this oeuvre ensconced in his Bruny Island cabin, and had three separate stories which he eventually combined into one. Unfortunately the result is not seamless, and occasionally the cracks show with some overlapping and repetition, for example the description of a hotel room where he used to meet his amour.

Like Tim Winton, Flanagan seems over-indulged by his editor, who could’ve taken the scalpel to some over-florid passages and over-long narrative. Or maybe the two lionised authors don’t brook any interference? The story would’ve been sharper with less. I felt somewhat bludgeoned by it.

The use of coincidence (or fate?) was unconvincing too, such as Dorrigo walking past Amy on the Harbour Bridge, and the surprise of discovering Darky’s true father. Moreover Aussies didn’t say ‘I’m good’ in 1942, 707s did not fly to Hobart, and writing of ‘things’ to mean qualities or concepts is just poor English (p.331). OK there’s some homework for other nitpickers.

Narrow Road won the prestigious Man Booker for 2014, and recently the Prime Minister’s Literary Award, which was more controversial. Flanagan shared the fiction award with Steven Carroll, and promptly gave his $40K to the Indigenous Literacy Foundation – a fine gesture.

However one of the judges, poet Les Murray, complained that the panel recommended only Carroll. Reports say that the PM intervened. “A clear majority of us thought the Flanagan book was superficial, showy and pretentious, and we disdained it. Something happened behind the scenes. I don’t know who pulled the strings but the decision we delivered was without strings”.

For a detailed critical review check this in the London Review of Books.



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Winton’s Woes

Tim Winton’s latest book ”Eyrie” is a curious, indulgent rant of a story of disillusionment and alienation, set in that fetid state of mining nirvana known as Western Australia. Winton’s cynical critique of that never-ending boom and its grasping denizens comes via the main male character, Tom Keely.

Middle-aged Tom has been ejected from the environmental movement by his injudicious outspokenness. Licking his wounds on the top floor of a spec-built Fremantle high-rise, with the aid of alcohol and drugs, his laments bounce along in fits of stupor or engagement. Winton’s gritty portrait of that seedy and seductive city makes Freo the main non-human hero of the book.

The story is too long with it’s winding plot. Maybe Winton doesn’t get serious editing these days? And his new party trick of repetitious recycling of clunky Aussie metaphors is like a dunny door in a gale. You quickly get annoyed by it. Like catching farts in a butterfly net. Flying like shit off a shovel. Nuttier than Queensland batshit. Bold as a mudlark. Loyal as a cattle dog. The ducks nuts. All examples from the book.

Truncated. Sentences. Are. Also. Annoying. Who said that was allowed? Ditto conversation without quotation marks, that other modish technique, which requires constant vigilance to see who’s talking, if anybody. The maestro’s over-written virtuosity (aka showing off?) gets in the way of the story. It kept me reading, but increasingly impatient. You have to wade through bucket-loads of colourful language and florid description. Ok, scrofulous is a cool word, but once is enough.

Redemption is available to Keely in his new relationships with a childhood friend and her fragile grandson, who also carry their fair shares of woes. Much is left unresolved, like life, some would say. But we are not rewarded with a proper ending or denouement. Left up in the air, as it were. More airy than eyrie. Like a soaring osprey in an updraft (my work!) that doesn’t land. Maybe we are just meant to enjoy the flight. There is an osprey in the story too, but it’s the most uplifting (oh yeah) image in this tale of woes. Such is life, indeed.

P.S. If you work out what the damp carpet in the opening scenes is all about, please let me know.


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