blending an assortment of thoughts and experiences for my friends, relations and kindred spirit

blending an assortment of thoughts and experiences for my friends, relations and kindred spirit
By Alison Hobbs, blending a mixture of thoughts and experiences for friends, relations and kindred spirits.

Sunday, April 15, 2012


"You can learn an awful lot more about Australians*," I told my sceptical husband, "by reading a novel about them than by reading a tourist guide or a history book."

(* Substitute any nationality there.)

I first read Tim Winton's Cloudstreet while my family was going through a crisis in January 2004. In fact an Australian friend lent it to me for distraction's sake. The book did more than that; it fortified me. I have just rediscovered it from cover to cover and am heartened to find that I wasn't mistaken the first time round. This is a very good book to read, if you have a taste for over-the-top writing. Or if you're interested in Australia!

My search on the Internet reveals that they made a TV series of Cloudstreet, down under, which is something I'd be interested to see. To judge by this trailer the adaptation is quite close to the spirit of the original.

The novel, set in and around Perth, is original indeed. Its story begins in the 1930s and ends in the 60s. The Swan River is one of the characters in it. The other characters express themselves in the working class slang of that part of the world. Another writer who had this visionary way of writing about superficially very ordinary (though fictional) people of that era was Patrick White, also Australian. No doubt Winton was under his influence when he started out.

This year I've read Winton's latest novel, Breath, as well, and noticed in that, as in his other books (some of them nominated for the Booker Prize), that he's still immersed in the exploration of characters young and old, always from Western Australia, who are or have been in extremis. What seems to fascinate him is how they cope, or fail to cope, with their awareness of this. Some of them, not unlike Ma Joad in Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath, cope to a startling degree.

Here's Oriel, the equivalent mother in Cloudstreet (1991):
"Oh, if she thinks about everything that's been taken from her over the years –– Lord, it's like the longest subtraction sum invented. She can't help it, the feeling is on her and she's furious. It's a sickness, selfpity, it'll eat you up, woman, you know it. It'll eat the day and worm into your labour and weaken you. She puts her square, red fist on the table, watches it like it's a paperweight."
I think that's a tremendous paragraph. And here's a line from the narrator in Breath (2008), a novel about people, such as surfers, who go to dangerous extremes:
"Surviving is the strongest memory I have; the sense of having walked on water."

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