‘Eyrie’ by Tim Winton

9781926428536To say Tom Keely’s life has imploded is something of an understatement. A former journalist and high profile spokesman/activist for an environmental group in Western Australia, an unspecified (but very public) meltdown has left Tom a shadow of his former self.

Divorced, self-medicating, living in isolation on the tenth floor of the down-at-heel Mirador apartment block overlooking the port of Fremantle, Tom is going nowhere fast. And even if he were, he’d never remember. Solace is to be found at the bottom of a few too many bottles, helped by handfuls of anti-depressants: he remembers little of the maudlin, self-deprecating telephone conversations he has with his mother, Doris, or his high-flying international executive sister, Faith.

But a chance meeting on the balcony of his apartment block with Gemma and her six year-old grandson, Kai, changes all that. She’s a blast from the past – a frequent victim of a violent father who, with her sister, found refuge in the Keely household. Now it’s Gemma’s turn to protect, her daughter being inside for drug related crimes.

Eyrie is unusual for Winton in that, whilst it follows the central preoccupations of earlier novels – volatile, often violent, family life; the possibility of redemption from earlier choices – it’s set in the big (for Western Australia) conurbation of Perth and Fremantle. Not since Cloudstreet in 1991 has Winton spent any time of note in “the gateway to the booming state…”

It’s a story of the little people, a David and Goliath parable of community versus corporations, of basic human values against profit. Tom, Gemma and Kai are powerless against the immutable system: this mismatched, surrogate family is necessary for their survival. Its existence is based on a mix of memory, need, the vulnerability of a broken and disturbed child and more than a little lust.

Yet it’s the drug addled father of the boy who is the biggest threat to the security of Gemma and Kai. Like the corporations controlling the State, it’s the system that’s let Gemma down. The paranoid drug fiend has found out where she lives and is most definitely a threat to her life. But even finding refuge in leafy Mosman Park in South Perth and the home of Doris is no long-term answer.

Eyrie is an enjoyable Tim Winton novel. But it’s not his best. Pointed in its critique of local politics, littered with complex characters (I built a soft spot for Doris and her reinvention after her husband’s early death), it’s all a bit of a ramble. And Keely is a little too self-indulgent.

Eyrie was shortlisted for the 2014 Miles Franklin Award, but it lost out to Evie Wyld and All the Birds, Singing.

 

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