Eyrie by Tim Winton – Review by Helen O’Leary
Let me first advise you not to launch into this book when feeling a tad under the weather for the beginning is bleak. Keeley the main protagonist wakes up in a sweltering apartment with a monumental hangover in dry and scorched Western Australia. His hangover is one of many that that merged into a hangover continuum. He is unkempt and wretched, newly divorced and unemployed, hopelessly addicted to painkillers and alcohol; it is not mood enhancing reading.
Formerly a respected environmentalist, we encounter Keeley at a low ebb. His fall from grace was a very public one and coincided with the implosion of his private life. To escape he has moved to live in an ugly, soulless tower block of apartments, overlooking a tourist strip that is wind swept and frazzling in the sun. Keeley craves anonymity yet here he finds only isolation in the concrete landscape and descends deeper into darkness and addiction.
Salvation comes in an unexpected form. One day he meets Gemma and her grandson Kai in the tower block. Gemma recognises Keeley from her childhood when Keeley’s parents gave her shelter from her own violent father. But life has toughened and embittered Gemma. She is sole carer for her grandson, her daughter is in prison and Kai’s father is continually harassing and threatening them. Kai is a strange and vulnerable child and a tender bond is stuck up between the young boy and Keeley. Doggedly determined to protect young Kai, Keeley who initially seemed pitiable and desperate emerges as a strong and compassionate man.
This novel is set in Australia in 2008 when the mining industry is at full throttle. Everyone is making a quick dollar but we are reminded of the emptiness easy money can bring. Winton powerfully evokes the anonymity and isolation of modern urban life. An existence removed from the natural world where people are crammed together yet alone.
I put this book aside after reading the first few pages and almost didn’t return but am glad I did. From bleak beginnings it’s a hopeful story. The writing is dense in places, but also funny and Tim Winton has an appealing turn of phrase. We are spoiled in this part of the world with so many excellent Irish and British novelists, perhaps we don’t often enough dip into Australian literature; this novel might whet your appetite.
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