Minervans' April treat was a rather grim read by this major Australian author set in Fremantle in about 2008 (banking crisis time) and ‘starring’ Tom Keely, Gemma Buck and her grandson Kai and Keely’s well-drawn mother, Doris. The book was not universally liked but some of us were ‘sucked in’ as Winton captures the overwhelming heat of Fremantle as well as the atmosphere and the substance of the poor environment.
The hangover in chapter one was very powerful we felt and as one member said you felt it! From this moment on, all is dysfunctional. Keely’s life is going downhill and we really are not told why he is such a failure. The full details are not clear till much later.
We discussed the ending next – and there was some contention about whether it was a death or not. Main conclusion was that it wasn’t a death but it was possibly a new beginning or a feeling of empowerment? Winton is also cagey about this in interviews. One member thought that this book had similarities with ‘The Riders’, which is also inconclusive at the end. One idea was that Keely had a brain tumour, or was he just too exhausted or too drug overdosed?
One of Keely’s many problems was his feeling of inadequacy -- not being able to live up the ideals set by his parents. We all felt this.
Gemma, the main female character is probably a prostitute as well as a worker at night in a supermarket. She is constantly trying to survive and keep her grandson safe. Doris is a good character too and understands Gemma better than Tom Keely does. She is also the sort of person children adore.
There are some really good reviews including this one by Lyn McCredden called The quality of mercy.
Many of the reviews discuss how well Winton describes Fremantle and its many differences from Perth. Some of us have friends or family who live in Perth but we feel many of them wouldn’t like this book. It has a certain working class feel which may not be appreciated.
We discussed the humour in this book – such as the tramp taking Keely’s bike. We also liked the way Winton has the ability to sum up places and people eg
Port of Fremantle, gateway to the booming state of Western Australia. Which was, you could say, like Texas. Only it was big. Not to mention thin-skinned. And rich beyond dreaming. .. A philistine giant eager to pass off its good fortune as quick to explain its shortcomings as east-coast conspiracies, always at the point of seeding from the Federation. Leviathan with an irritable bowel. (page 5)
You’re trying to do the right thing, I know. It’s how we raised you, the both of you. But you save yourself first, Tom. That’s something I do know, it’s what I’ve learnt. You save yourself, then you look to the others. (Doris talking to Tom, page 289)
The lack of quotation marks was reflected upon and was certainly not a hindrance in our comprehension.
There were some comments about the input of Winton’s own personality in some characters in this book – especially visible in Kai and Keely. Kai is an unusual child – his interest in Scrabble, his dyslexia and his strange dreams. Is Winton reflecting on the past?
We talked a lot about Winton’s other novels – many of us felt we needed to read more of them although we have read 3 or 4 with Minerva. Even his children’s books are worth reading especially one called Blueback.
The themes in Eyrie (pronounced airey by the author) are: redemption and overcoming disappointment, legacies of childhood and guilt. Loss of beauty is also a strong theme. Another idea is that Keely is trying to find his inner good person – is it reminiscent of Barracuda? Both men looked up to their fathers and tried desperately to be like them but felt they failed.
One review says the book is about family – Keely’s versus Gemma’s I presume. Gemma’s life is so constrained by her poor upbringing and her helplessness. Winton doesn’t care that his novels are so partisan – he makes us middle class people feel very uncomfortable at times.
This book was published just before Christmas 2013 and didn’t attract the attention Winton’s stories justly receive, as so many other notable books were published and released at the same time. It is a pity because it is a good read and also enjoyable as an audio book.