Just after I’d listened to a podcast of Australian author Tim Winton being interviewed by CBC’s Eleanor Wachtel of Writers and Company, and thinking I’d really like to read one of his books one day, a friend and fellow book lover sent Cloudstreet my way. Thanks Conny! I really loved this earthy and epic Australian classic. In the interview Winton says he often begins his novels by creating a place and then filling it with people. In this case, it is a big rambling house which in itself becomes like a character in the novel. The two couples who live in the house couldn’t be more different. One couple are hardworking God-fearing folks, and the other couple are licentious wastrels who depend on luck.
“Struggling to rebuild their lives after being touched by disaster, the Pickle family, who’ve inherited a big house called Cloudstreet in a suburb of Perth, take in the God-fearing Lambs as tenants. The Lambs have suffered their own catastrophes, and determined to survive, they open up a grocery on the ground floor. From 1944 to 1964, the shared experiences of the two overpopulated clans — running the gamut from drunkenness, adultery, and death to resurrection, marriage, and birth — bond them to each other and to the bustling, haunted house in ways no one could have anticipated.”
Cloudstreet is a fantastic reading experience that will stay with me for a long time (complete with interesting magical touches like an Aboriginal ghost and a talking pig). It is a family saga with characters that are unforgettable and the humour Winton uses to tell the story is no-nonsense and quintessentially Aussie. There are hilarious scenes but also tragedy and heartache in equal measure. The writing is so packed with good stuff that it is not a quick read and often huge reveals are conveyed in just a few words that make you go “wait, what just happened?” A lot of reviewers speak of rereading the book and making new discoveries each time. The novel is beautifully crafted, uniquely described, and worth a careful reading. A television miniseries adaptation of Cloudstreet came out in 2011. I found it fun to watch the trailer. Although I’ve never been in Perth, I think the setting would be recognizable to locals and even includes an historical appearance of the ‘Nedlands Monster’, a serial killer from the early 60’s.
Winton is a surfer, as many Australians are. He says writing is much like surfing, because much of it involves just waiting until the wave comes in and then being prepared to ride it out when it does. Winton is often called the “bard of Western Australia.” He recently put this piece of excellent writing into the Australian political scene regarding migrant boats, an issue much in the news lately for many parts of the world. He gave this passioned and compassionate plea on Palm Sunday: