Monday, 13 January 2020

Tim Winton’s The shepherd’s hut

The shepherd's hut, the latest addition to Tim Winton’s oeuvre, is considered one of his best for many years according to many of our Minerva members.

This novel has a very minor plot – violent Dad is found dead and teenage son is extremely worried that he will be suspected of killing him. The boy leaves home and walks away not caring or knowing where he is going. He almost dies in the Western Australian desert until he finds a hut where an elderly former priest lives as a hermit. They develop a bond and the young boy starts to recover from the abuse and difficulties of his life.

[SPOILER ALERT] Inevitably the priest is killed by 2 guys who think the priest has discovered their marijuana plantation. It is the characters' relationships that carry this work and make it so distinctive and so memorable.

First impressions

  • Very clever
  • Found the language very challenging and distasteful
  • Personalities are fantastic
  • Compelling reading
  • Atmosphere – slow and moody – would be great as a movie with music complimenting the slow pace
  • Some language is a bit jargonistic – Tim Winton moves in the circles of people who swear constantly
  • Description of nature and love of WA landscape wonderful
  • A religious story – with a biblical feel
  • Reminded one member of Voss by Patrick White with the descriptions of the landscape
  • Loved the last 2 sentences – ‘And peace is on its way. It fucking better be.’ (p. 267) Felt that summed up that at heart Jaxie Clackton was a good guy – although he was continually worried that he wasn’t.
  • Winton really gets the landscape, drew me in
  • What was he trying to say? Was it about a cynical priest trying to redeem a young person?
  • Very masculine novel – fascinating and tough – males in extremis?
  • Very impressive opening passage – hinting at trials ahead or to put it another way – something ending and something beginning
  • Jaxie feels he is a scapegoat as he has been outcast most of his life by his family and by school and his peers – this becomes almost biblical
  • He has been a violent young man – ‘I have been a dirty goat’ and ‘I’m no type of beast anymore’
  • One member realised that there is no sea or surf in this Winton novel which is most unusual
  • Couldn’t understand why the priest Fintan was stuck in the desert as it isn’t explained – he is a flawed wise man and not a paedophile 
  • Implausible scenario but that does not detract from the biblical allusions – Jesus in the desert -- 40 days etc

Language

There were differing opinions about the language – the majority of members did not mind it as it seemed appropriate – the others found it disturbing but it did not detract from their admiration for the novel. The swearing includes all words commonly used as well as some which are not used so often. Jaxie is a boy of little education so the sentences are short and blunt and raw but very understandable, even when he uses lots of slang.

We found the names of the characters quite Dickensenian – and they also reminded one reader of Terry Prachett’s names.

The two main characters speak in their own languages which at times are totally authentic and natural.

Characters

Jaxie

Jaxie is a traumatised young man, probably suffering from PTSD caused by his abusive, butcher father. Jaxie recognises early on that he is full of pent up anger at the world and with himself.

We discussed how he was ‘driven’ to love his first cousin Lee as he was so lacking in love from his parents. It is often the way that abused children find succour in relationships which cannot be approved.

Jaxie’s mother didn’t protect him and he was bullied at school and he didn’t have any friends due to his bad behaviour.

We admired Jaxie’s strong drive to survive and go forward despite the numerous trials with objects eg the binoculars in particular. He wanted to learn and he listened to the priest and they developed a bond.

His view of himself was as an outcast thrown out by Capt Wankbag (his father).

As Jaxie is the narrator we only hear his side of the story so we only see his experiences from his point of view.

There is a lot of slaughter in this novel – especially of kangaroos and goats in order for humans to survive. Another aspect of his violence was illustrated graphically in the story of the killing of the cats. It was confronting but he did it when his father was too lazy or dissolute to assist the cat owner. It was brutal but in context.

We briefly discussed the issue of small towns keeping secrets about family life and others not willing to be involved even though the young ones and the mothers often were regularly in danger. This was also an issue in Karen Viggers’ recent novel – The orchardist’s daughter.

In contrast we also talked about his happy times when the extended family got together and he became friends with Lee. These are the only bright times in his short life.

Jaxie also did not have big goals in life – he just wants peace – which is completely understandable considering his upbringing.

Fintan

Fintan the priest was ministering to Jaxie – trying to create a space for him. He was also mentoring him and trying to assist him. He recognised that Jaxie was a battered boy and did not have a heart of gold. Fintan wants peace too but is happy to share his peace with the boy.

Landscape

One member who grew up in the country felt that Winton captured the reality of country life beautifully and very specifically in the killing of animals to survive. This is despite the author’s different upbringing near the sea.

Another member felt that Winton is as good as Elizabeth Jolley in capturing the landscape of WA. It was interesting, this member said, that Winton is ‘allowed’ to call the native trees by their WA names,  so we get ‘Yorkies’ for instance, when other writers have to conform to the Australian terminology .

Finally


The point of the novel is the making of a man – will his girl friend be happy to meet him at the end of his adventure? Why did it take Jaxie so long to shoot the Fintan’s torturers? It was a very difficult situation for anybody let alone a teenager who had never shot anyone before.

Present: 9 members

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