Wednesday Reads – Cloudstreet by Tim Winton

For those of you who kept up with my travels on facebook (and if you haven’t yet please feel free to pop over and like the page) you’ll know that a key feature of our holiday for me was reading.  I absolutely adore getting lost, almost trapped, inside a book, but it’s hard to do that at home with kids.  Even if I do sit down and give myself ten or fifteen minutes to read while the kids are entertained, I can quite switch off enough to really get into the book – unless it’s totally amazing then you’ll find me cooking dinner with my nose stuck in the book.  In short, I have missed that quiet, solitary reading time I used to get.  These holidays I was completely upfront with my need for this and told Mr Good I had to have at least an hour and a half everyday of UNINTERRUPTED reading time.  I won’t say he came to the party thrilled about this, but he did understand and made sure I got it (almost) everyday.  I also have the happy knack of being able to read in the car, so when I wasn’t snapping photos I was reading.  As I result I’ve added significantly to my read list and have plenty of books to share with you.  I thought a regular Wednesday post until I catch up to what I’m currently reading would be the way to go.

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“Will you look at us by the river! The whole restless mob of us on spread blankets in the dreamy briny sunshine skylarking and chiacking about for one day, one clear, clean, sweet day in a good world in the midst of our living. Yachts run before an unfelt gust with bagnecked pelicans riding above them, the city their twitching backdrop, all blocks and points of mirror light down to the water’s edge.”

The first book is an absolute Australian classic and one that as a high school English teacher I was ashamed to say I hadn’t read.  Well I changed that and finished Cloudstreet by Tim Winton the night before we headed off on our journey.

I have read a few other Tim Winton novels and I must say I always feel pretty much the same way about them.  I enjoy the stories, the characters are great but for some reason I don’t engage quite as much as I think I should…. and I always find them waffly and slow in the middle.  I finish with the feeling that it was a good read, but…..  Given Winton’s reputation and popularity in the Australian literary field I must be in the minority in this area I assume.

Cloudstreet follows the family dramas of the Pickles and the Lambs, two struggling working class families struck by their own disasters, as they attempt to build a new life sharing a huge old run down house in Perth.  The two families have diametrically opposing values in many ways, one hard working and totally honest, the other lazy, drunken, gambling no-hopers (with the exception of Rose), but in the end they seem to complement each other and discover that they have indeed found themselves new lives and a level of contentment or perhaps resignation to the fact they are really one big family.  It can be depressing in parts and you get the feeling none of the characters are really happy or enjoying life for most of the book.  This for me became too much, I didn’t long for the happy ending, instead I just stopped caring about them.

What Winton does do which I adore is take you into the landscape, be it rural or suburban (of course set in Western Australia), so that you feel like you’ve been there and walked that same path.  This was especially so with the house in Cloudstreet – which becomes known simply as Cloudstreet.  The house is another character, a living, breathing, depressing additional character, perhaps the most interesting in the story.  Though I did also relate to Oriel Lamb, especially when she moved out to a tent in the backyard, just to have a space of her own (I know that feeling!).  The characters overall are perfectly formed, you know them inside and out by the end, but for me I just didn’t care enough about them to make this book one of those that you just can’t put down.

At over 400 pages this book didn’t have enough of a story to stop me getting bored in the middle (a classic symptom of a Winton read for me) and I thought it could have been about 100 pages shorter.  I found it really hard to get through to the finish actually but was pleased that I did persevere.  It has some wonderful truly Australian colloquialisms (which if you’re not from Australia you might struggle to understand, but that might just add that extra bit of interest as well) and Winton’s use of language is often superb, so for that alone the book is probably worth the time and effort.

I’d love to know what others think of Cloudstreet or Tim Winton as a writer.  Are you like me and slow to get to some of the ‘classics’?  And are you generally disappointed (too much hype) or thrilled by them?

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3 Responses to Wednesday Reads – Cloudstreet by Tim Winton

  1. narf77 says:

    Coming from Western Australia I tried hard to engage with Tim Winton’s book. I read it cover to cover but it seemed like it was coming from someplace where “selling a story” was more important than telling it…like it was written to order and was serving us a slice of quintessential “Aussieness” rather than coming from the soul. I felt like the only Aussie in the village who just didn’t get Mr Winton’s success. I much prefer his younger brothers musical career to his writing for the masses 😉

    • Barbara Good says:

      It’s good to hear I’m not the only one with a luke warm reaction to Winton – I think after this one I’ve had enough. I agree there is a feeling of being marketed to (I always got that feeling from Bryce Courtney as well) and perhaps it is that uber Auusie-ness, though at the same time I kind of liked some of the really Aussie language used. If I can recommend another Aussie author who I am currently enjoying it would be Marcus Zusak (The Book Thief, but also The Messenger which is set in Australia and has that unique Australian voice but is done so much better than Winton’s). I also love Rosalie Ham (The Dressmaker and There Should be More Dancing) and Craig Silvey’s Jasper Jones.

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