Sunday, January 4, 2009

Cloudstreet by Tim Winton (1/81)

Category: Around the World (9 different countries)

Country: Australia

Cloudstreet is about two families, the Pickles and the Lambs who live together in a large house at Number 1 Cloud Street in Perth, Western Australia. The families are very different, Sam Pickles is a doomed gambler, his wife Dolly is a drunk, whereas Lester and Oriel Lamb are hardworking Christians who have suffered a crisis of faith since their middle son, Fish was nearly drowned and left brain-damaged. The book follows the fortunes of these characters over a twenty year period, from the end of the Second World War to the 1960s.

I know shamefully little about Australian literature, but saw this book recommended in a discussion on this topic and thought it sounded interesting as I like books about quirky characters and dysfunctional families. However, this book is much more than a standard family melodrama and has definite literary merits.

Cloudstreet has a fragmented structure with each chapter broken down into titled sub-sections from varying perspectives that switch occasionally from the third person to the first person. The book begins with a beautiful poetic description of a picnic by water, but the significance of this is not immediately obvious, but is revealed later.

The narrative is touched with hints of magical realism including a talking pig, and rich with symbolism, with the house and water taking on greater meaning. But along with these mystical elements, the book is grounded in history, with the spectre of war and the Depression looming over much of the narrative, Australia's politics and relationship with Britain mentioned repeatedly and the true story of a serial killer intersecting with the family lives.

I enjoyed the story of these two families and was compelled to find out what would happen to them, but equally I feel this was a good choice for a book from Australia. Perth and how it changed over this period is vital, many of the characters do seem typically Australian without ever becoming stereotypes and the dialogue is littered with Australian slang (which should be familiar to anyone who has watched any Australian soaps!)

No comments: