Tim Winton’s Cloudstreet has won three literary awards, and as far as I am concerned deserved every one. I loved this book – the characters, setting and story were all brought to life incredibly well, and it’s one of those rare reads where I didn’t want to finish it as I was enjoying it so much.
The novel follows two families – the Pickles and Lambs – whose fates are entwined when they move in to Cloudstreet – a large, ramshackle house in Perth:
“It was a big, sad, two-storey affair… but there was still enough white paint on the place to give it a grand air and it seemed to lord it above the other houses in the street which were modest little red brick and tin cottages.”
The house is almost a character in itself, and its inhabitants alternatively love and loath it but never manage to leave. The families themselves couldn’t be more different. The Pickles are as slovenly as the Lambs are resourceful, and Sam Pickles leaves his fortune to luck or, as he calls it, the “shifty shadow.” The Lambs are driven onwards by Oriel – a small, tough woman whom no one seems to like:
“Oriel Lamb mouthed off a lot about work and stickability until you felt like sticking a bloody bility right up her drawers.”
Both families are large, and become even bigger as the novel follows the progress of their children in to adulthood.
Although there is a narrative arc, this book is more about the characters than the story and I found the comparison to a soap opera (on the back cover) to be very apt, although I must add that it is an exquisitely written one. The Lambs’ son, Fish, has an accident at the beginning of the novel, and never recovers from it:
“It’s like Fish is stuck somewhere. Not the way all the living are stuck in time and space; he’s in another stuckness altogether. Like he’s half in and half out.”
Fish’s accident affects the whole family – from Oriel, who Fish no longer recognises, to Quick who blames himself for the accident. Plenty of other events occur, but I felt it was Fish’s story which held the narrative together.
I love magic realism, and it’s clear from the opening chapter when Sam encounters the “shifty shadow” that the novel contains elements of the fantastical. It also contains plenty of humour, such as this:
And plenty of sad moments too. I felt myself completely drawn in to these families and almost felt like I could start talking to the characters (I love the phrase “fair dinkum” but did think that “carn” was a character for a while). I cannot emphasise enough how much I enjoyed this book, and am so glad that this challenge made me step outside my usual reading habits enough to try it. If anyone has any other recommendations for Australian authors (I’ve read Peter Carey but can’t think of any others) who are as good as Tim Winton then please let me know!