Monday, April 1, 2019

"The Shepherd’s Hut" by Tim Winton

The Shepherd’s Hut
by Tim Winton

The Shepherd’s Hut by Tim Winton

It’s that time of month again - book club! This month, we’re featuring The Shepherd’s Hut by another Australia writer, Tim Winton. Each month you can read my review and the opinions of my fellow book clubbers. Please feel free to share your own thoughts in the comments section below.
Next month, we will be reading Once Upon a River by Dianne Setterfield. Please join us on 29 April to discuss.

Jaxie dreads going home. His mum's dead. The old man bashes him without mercy, and he wishes he was an orphan. But no one's ever told Jaxie Clackton to be careful what he wishes for.
In one terrible moment his life is stripped to little more than what he can carry and how he can keep himself alive. There's just one person left in the world who understands him and what he still dares to hope for. But to reach her he'll have to cross the vast saltlands on a trek that only a dreamer or a fugitive would attempt.
The Shepherd's Hut is a searing look at what it takes to keep love and hope alive in a parched and brutal world.

Book Video

When I hit the bitumen and get that smooth grey rumble going under me everything’s hell different. Like I’m in a fresh new world all slick and flat and easy. Even with the engine working up a howl and the wind flogging in the window the sounds are real soft and pillowy. Civilized I mean. Like you’re still on the earth but you don’t hardly notice it anymore. And that’s hectic. You’d think I never got in a car before. But when you’ve hoofed it like a dirty goat all these weeks and months, when you’ve had the stony slow prickle-up hard country right in your face that long it’s bloody sudden. Some crazy shit, I tell you. Brings on this angel feeling. Like you’re just one arrow of light.
And bugger me, here I am hitting a hundred already and still not even in top gear. On squishy upholstery, with one of them piney tree things jiggling off the mirror. I’m flying. And just sitting on me arse to do it. Off the ground. Out of the dirt. And I’m no kind of beast anymore.
So what does that make me? Someone you won’t see coming, that’s what. Something you can’t hardly imagine.
Say I hit your number, called you up, you’d wonder what the fuck, every one of youse, and your mouth’d go dry. Maybe you’re just some stranger I pocket-dialled. Or one of them shitheads from school I could look for. Any of youse heard my voice now you’d think it was weather. Or a bird screaming. You’d be sweating sand. Like I’m the end of the world.
Well, no need to worry. I don’t forgive you, none of youse, but I’m over all that now. You’re all in the past.
Me phone’s flat anyway. Plugged into the dash, charging or dying, I dunno which. So relax, I’m not calling. Everything’s changed. I’m not what I was. All I am now is a fresh idea fanging north up the highway to where it’s hot and safe and secret. I got someone to collect. In Magnet. She’ll be waiting and ready. Least I hope so.
Fifth gear. It took a few goes to find but I’m there now. With red dirt flashing by. Mulga scrub. Glinty stones. Roadkill crows. The Jeep reeks from all them sloshing jerry cans in the back. But the windows are open and the wind is warm and the stink of petrol beats the smell of blood any day.
All of a sudden I’m hungry. I get the .410 by the neck and heave it over on the back seat. I shove the box of shells away to get at the food and it’s still warm on the tin plate. It’s good and greasy and tastes of smoke. From the first swallow I get a hot charge.
And I drive like that, just under the limit, with a chop in one hand and the wheel in the other. Laughing hard enough to choke. For the first time in me life I know what I want and I have what it takes to get me there. If you never experienced that I feel sorry for you.
But it wasn’t always like this. I been through fire to get here. I seen things and done things and had shit done to me you couldn’t barely credit. So be happy for me. And for fucksake don’t get in my way.
[Want more? Click below to read a longer excerpt.]

Praise for the Book
“A mournful and fast-paced journey into the life of a young man on his own ... Winton’s novel is alive with pain and suffering, but it is also full of moments of grace and small acts of kindness. Gorgeously written and taut with eloquent, edgy suspense, Jaxie’s journey is a portrait of young manhood amidst extreme conditions, both inward and outward.” ~ Publisher's Weekly, starred review
“Winton thrusts the reader into the barren and unforgiving salt land in western Australia ... An absolute thrill to read.” ~ Booklist
“A brilliant tour-de-force.”  ~ Adam Woog, The Seattle Times
“Winton is a one-man band of genius.” ~ Carolyn See, Los Angeles Times
“It's beyond belief sensational. It's so Australian you almost have to read it with your mouth shut in case the flies blow in ...” ~ Mem Fox

Book Clubbers’ Thoughts
Denise: “I was disappointed with the ending. I was expecting to find out where Jaxie ended up.”
Jan: “I felt there was very much a theme of ‘don’t judge a book by its cover’. Jaxie was rough, but he had a morality and was seeking human connection. Fintan was an outcast, and it was never really made clear where he came from or what he did to end up there. I thought he might have been in Rwanda during the conflict between the Hutus and Tutsis. The author provided great descriptions of Jaxie’s house, his father’s butcher shop, and the salt lake. I wondered if Lee would be waiting for Jaxie at the end and was disappointed that we never find out.”
Marie-Louise: “This is a coming of age tale about Jaxie, and I felt for him when he was hiding from the men towards the end of the book. I was intrigued by the character of Fintan. I found myself wondering whether he really was a good man or if he had done something bad in the past. He seemed to welcome his suffering at the end, almost as if he were atoning for his sins.”
Maryann: “I read the first fifty page and found it tough going. Family commitments prevented me from finishing it, but I probably would have persevered if I had the time.”

My Review
I got this book on loan from the library.

By Lynda Dickson
Jaxie Clackton, our fifteen-year-old narrator, speaks directly to the reader in his distinctive Aussie voice, full or vernacular and swearing. His dad gets drunk and beats him up, to the extent that Jaxie wishes him dead. “All a person wants is feeling safe. Peace, that’s all I’m after.” And then one day a freak accident kills his dad. Jaxie thinks he might get blamed and, with barely any supplies, sets off from Monkton, Western Australia, heading north to Magnet to meet his cousin Lee, the only person he loves and trusts.
During the trip, he reminisces, and we find out that his dad abandoned them when his mum was dying of cancer, which should have been a relief but was somehow worse. “No one should have to watch their mum die on their own.” Because of his dad, he was the laughing stock of the school and fought back, earning a reputation as well as detention. He remembers the good times, camping out with his mum and dad, fossicking for gold. He recalls the terrain from when he went hunting for goats and kangaroos with his dad. And he tells us how he spent time in his dad’s butcher shop learning the trade. All of this serves to explain how Jaxie comes to have the skills he needs to survive in the harsh landscape on his own.
A string of good luck leads Jaxie to find a place to stay and a means of preserving his kill. “So don’t ever feel sorry for Jaxie Clackton. Because I’m one lucky bastard, I kid you not.” Then, after spending some time on his own, Jaxie comes across Fintan MacGillis, an old man holed up in a derelict shepherd’s hut, hiding from his past. Fintan convinces Jaxie to stay for a while. But soon Jaxie starts feeling trapped, like one of Fintan’s goats, which leads to him making a disastrous decision.
Initially, the book is hard to read because of all the colloquialisms and poor grammar used by our narrator. But, with the whole first part being a monologue, you soon get used to it. There are times when Jaxie tends to lose his voice, with inconsistencies in the use of me/my and meself/myself being the most obvious. There is no dialogue until the second part of the book - when Jaxie meets Fintan - and then it’s sometimes difficult to read because of the lack of quotation marks. There are also some pretty foul descriptions and images, making this a book that might appeal to young blokes around Jaxie’s age.
The story begins in the present and shifts to the past, slowly letting us know how Jaxie comes to be where he is now. At the end, we end up right back to where we started. Along the way, Jaxie drops hints about what is to come, a trick that keeps us reading to find out how things eventuate. This is an extraordinary feat of writing, mainly because there isn’t much plot. The book is more a character study of Jaxie’s journey into manhood, his coming of age story. His father wasn’t a good role model, but we see how Jaxie changes after meeting Fintan, a good man who has a positive effect on his life. Fintan is an intriguing character who always remains a mystery. And let’s not forget the harsh Aussie landscape, which is a character in its own right.
A moving coming of age story.
Warnings: coarse language, sexual references, violence.

Guest Post by the Author (originally published here)
Tim Winton on That Cover
People keep asking about the goat, and I just shrug. I mean, what can I say? There’s no reason that’s likely to satisfy anyone, nothing objective anyway. I loved the red hardback cover and we all worked pretty hard to get that rich treatment based on the brilliant Trent Parke photo. But for the paperback I wanted to go in the opposite direction. I kind of fixed on the idea of the goat and the high-viz yellow from the outset. We looked at a lot of options, of course, and I guess I drove the design folks nuts. What I wanted was something that reflected the antic, feral quality of my narrator Jaxie. Anarchy with attitude, I guess. Chaos and danger. With a smirk. Because Jaxie’s funny, but usually in a way that’s slightly off. He’s hardy, agile and destructive. He thinks he’s fierce and cool, but really he’s just a human dumpster fire, a boy craving love and tenderness. In his story the real wilderness is not the landscape, it’s his emotional history, his family life. I always thought of Jaxie Clackton as a high-viz character. Right up in your face like a hazard warning. Notice me, leave me alone, help me out here, go away. To represent that you have to say goodbye to politeness and good taste. That’s the excuse I’m running with. Maybe I’ll think of something deep with footnotes somewhere down the track.

About the Author
The preeminent Australian novelist of his generation, Tim Winton is the author of the bestselling novels Cloudstreet, The Riders, and Dirt Music, among many other books. He has won the Miles Franklin Literary Award four times (for Shallows, Cloudstreet, Dirt Music, and Breath) and has twice been short-listed for the Booker Prize (for TheRiders and Dirt Music). He lives in Western Australia.