Tom Keely’s life, like a skein of wool, is slowly starting to unravel. He has lost his wife, his job, he no longer answers emails or phone calls. The only real connection left to the world is his contact with his sister and mother. He does not seem to realise the amount of prescription drugs he is taking, or his dependency on them to make it through the interminable days and nights. He is clearly, maybe not to himself, but I believe he knows as well, spiralling down into the depths of depression and isolation.
However, this spiral is challenged when he runs into a woman who also lives on the tenth floor of his building, only a couple of doors down, who recognises him as a childhood friend. Gemma Burk was one of the sisters who used to sleep over at Tom’s house at night when her father was bashing their mother. Tom’s father, Nev, would look after the sisters and confront the husband. Tom feels, not from lack of trying, that he has lived his life in his father’s enormous shadow.
Gemma has a grandson who lives with her who takes a shine to Tom and starts making more intrusions into his life with each day. Their lives are far from ideal and it is obvious to Tom that they have huge problems as well, perhaps problems exceeding his own. The six- year old grandson Kai seems to have some connection to Tom and looks to him maybe as a father figure, a saviour perhaps. As his relationship with Kai grows so does his concern about Kai’s mental state. As Kai becomes more comfortable with Tom he starts to open up and tells Tom about his dreams of falling from their apartment. Tom’s fears deepen when he finds amongst Kai’s drawings of birds, a drawing of the outline of a body, exactly like the ones seen in crime scenes that designate where the body was found. When he questions Kai about it, Kai tells him that it is his outline, where he lands from the fall. Kai tells Tom he will never be old, and Tom thinks he may be suicidal.
Tom realises that their problems may be more desperate than he thinks when a young man, clearly a drug addict, turns up demanding money from Gemma. This man tacitly implies that their lives are in danger if they don’t pay the money by the end of the week. The man turns out to be friends with Gemma’s daughter’s crazed drug fuelled ex-husband.
Tom and his family helped Gemma and her sister years ago. His father took on an almost mythical status in Gemma’s eyes. Now years later Tom must help Gemma again, but is he up to such a task? Is this the time to emerge from his father’s shadow?
Winton, once again, shows how masterfully he writes characters and their relationships. Particularly, characters with problems, flaws, and fears. Also, much like The Shepard’s Hut, he touches on the lack of a stable father figure for Kai. The damage that can be done to one so young, when the father figure is missing, morally, spiritually and physically.
He is also clearly bringing the message to the fore of Australia following America’s path in painkiller addiction and the myriad of problems it causes not just to the individual, but society as a whole.
What Winton also does brilliantly is to leave the reader in the dark as to what has befallen Tom and why he is in such an unstable state. As the novel progresses, we see how badly he is addicted and affected by the painkillers. His background is ambiguously cloudy, and slowly revealed throughout the novel, with information coming from the other characters. As he lets the reader build Tom’s character, he builds suspense, with messages and signs being left on Gemma’s front door, a teddy bear left on the balcony. Tom feels he must do something, but the end of the week is getting closer.
There is a great line in the book, when you are swimming and trying to save somebody drowning, lead with the feet, do not let the them drag you down with them.
As with all Winton’s books, this one has that unique Australian feel to it. It permeates the whole novel. The language, the slang, the location, the heat. I live in Queensland on the east coast, but Winton made me feel like l had been living in Western Australia my whole life.
Brilliant novel, so close to a five. 4.5 Stars.
Tim Winton was born in Perth, Western Australia, but moved at a young age to the small country town of Albany.
While a student at Curtin University of Technology, Winton wrote his first novel, An Open Swimmer. It went on to win The Australian/Vogel Literary Award in 1981, and launched his writing career. In fact, he wrote "the best part of three books while at university". His second book, Shallows, won the Miles Franklin Award in 1984. It wasn't until Cloudstreet was published in 1991, however, that his career and economic future were cemented.
In 1995 Winton’s novel, The Riders, was shortlisted for the Booker Prize, as was his 2002 book, Dirt Music. Both are currently being adapted for film. He has won many other prizes, including the Miles Franklin Award three times: for Shallows (1984), Cloudstreet (1992) and Dirt Music (2002). Cloudstreet is arguably his best-known work, regularly appearing in lists of Australia’s best-loved novels. His latest novel, released in 2013, is called Eyrie.
He is now one of Australia's most esteemed novelists, writing for both adults and children. All his books are still in print and have been published in eighteen different languages. His work has also been successfully adapted for stage, screen and radio. On the publication of his novel, Dirt Music, he collaborated with broadcaster, Lucky Oceans, to produce a compilation CD, Dirt Music – Music for a Novel.
He has lived in Italy, France, Ireland and Greece but currently lives in Western Australia with his wife and three children.
Here is a link to the Sydney Morning Herald with an interview of Winton talking about Eyrie - https://www.smh.com.au/entertainment/books/interview-tim-winton-20131010-2v99d.html