Eyrie tells the story of Tom Keely, a man who's lost his bearings in middle age and is now holed up in a flat at the top of a grim highrise, looking down on the world he's fallen out of love with. He's cut himself off, until one day he runs into some neighbours: a woman he used to know when they were kids, and her introverted young boy. The encounter shakes him up in a way that he doesn't understand. Despite himself, Keely lets them in. What follows is a heart-stopping, groundbreaking novel for our times, funny, confronting, exhilarating and haunting, populated by unforgettable characters. It asks how, in an impossibly compromised world, we can ever hope to do the right thing.
This is such a modern book, about life in the world right now. It's a hard life, full of threats and pressures and desperation. People are forced to endure these things without the help society pretends is available to all. Police, the law, government welfare, all fail the test of being realistic pathways to escape. Instead, fear, money, debts, burdens of family and work must be dealt with by resorting to drugs, legal and illegal, alcohol, violence, fear and flight.
Threading most powerfully through this novel is a building suspense, a feeling something dreadful is going to happen to the most vulnerable of characters.
Winton's depiction of "Freo"and Perth is excoriating. Heat, squalor, with dull, drab, terrible modern urban streetscapes and housing estates, and continual damage to the environment all add to the vision of a place you would never want to visit.
From the opening Winton's writing seems over the top, wildly pulsating with life, as if he is rushing to spill out all he can in word and imagery about people and place. As the book progresses, the pace continues in the same over heated, desperate way; it gradually becomes clear that this febrile world of words is the way we live now.
This is Tim Winton's most powerful book. It's not a place you would want to inhabit, most characters are people you hope to avoid, and the tale of their lives is a terrible one. The fact that we become so engrossed in their lives shows Winton has written a masterful work of modern literature .
Also, I don't get why we think novels are easier to read without quotation marks. It's faddish and distracting.
Though in the thirty years I spent in Australia I never heard anyone refer to a cigarette as a "fag." A "cancer stick.", a cigarette, a smoke, whatever. Not a fag. And I bludged a few thousand over the years.
As others have hinted, Winton doesn't quite happen here. Terse narrative, laconic dialogue, yes. A compelling plot, too, for a while. But then the Volvo and the Hyundai sort of part company, fluffily, meaninglessly. The back stories cease to be particulaly important, the bit characters become bittier, the ugly underworld just a bit, well, pastiche, really. In the end as the narrative accelerates I found myself thinking that this has to end in tears and then I found that maybe it does or maybe it doesn't but whatever. Doris and Gemma and Kai and Tom came and are gone and. .. . oh well. Meh.
Yet Winton could write a grocery list and I would sense narrative force. A poor Winton book, and perhaps this is, is still in the top 90% of can't put downs and "oh bugger I've finisheds." So yeah, four stars. Three and three quarters if I could. And I hope every Tom out there gets off the substance abuse somehow. And I hope every Kai out there gets help somewhere. But not from each other.
And give up on the fags already alright and have a smoke if you must.
Such a different scene from the beach and bush of Winton's previous novels, but he manages to paint a picture of life for the "losers" in this part of the world, so descriptively that one can almost "smell" the squalor.
The main character Tom Keely lives on the top floor of a run-down block of high-rise units, looking down on Fremantle, WA on the "sleaze" of the city. Hence the title "Eyrie".
He is a person that I would call a "loser' but he does manage to rise from his own medicated and drunken self-pitying existence to become involved in the life of his neighbour Gemma and her grandson Kai .Whether he succeeds in bettering their lives , in particular that of the young boy, is for the reader to decide.
From the characters that the writer has created, we perceive how the female of the species, in this case Gemma., will fight on no matter how hard life's knocks ,while the male (Tom in this case0, gives up and takes refuge in alcohol drugs and self-pity. To me this is perhaps a problem facing the human race.
The book makes you think about these problems in our "modern day world" and is well worth reading.
Tom Keely, from whose point of view the story is told, has effectively removed himself from society after holding a prominent and very public position in the recent past. We never find out exactly what he did, but he was, apparently, right, and he has vindication coming. Not that any of that is doing him much good at present, as he abuses medication and alcohol attempting to obliterate that past. Other things happened, too, which tipped him over the edge of mental instability. Some of that is discussed in the story.
Despite everything, he remains an essentially good man, trying to do ‘the right thing’.
Unexpectedly, he crosses paths with Gemma, whom he knew well in childhood. As a result, his reclusiveness is compromised, and a world he knows nothing about lands in his lap. And it’s not good.
Keely is a fascinating character – a brilliant invention by Winton, equally likeable and despicable; a failed man trying to come to terms with the hand he has been dealt – not unlike Sam Pickles in ‘Cloudstreet’. Gemma, despite all the baggage she takes through life with her, is also a sympathetic, if annoyingly stubborn character. Her grandson, Kai, provides a point of connection for Tom and Gemma, and a reason for Tom to become reluctantly involved in their lives.
I have been in awe of Winton’s writing for many years, and while I haven’t enjoyed every novel he has written, I have certainly appreciated the craft of his writing. ‘Eyrie’ is quite possibly the best fiction Winton has produced – an outstanding story of modern gritty Australia, told with a heart that understands the Australian character in all its variations.
Unfortunately at around the time the book afforded a good three pages to a hilarious description
of the local down-and-out there was a change of tone, and the story became an endless cycle of shagging the neighbour, fighting with the neighbour, waking up in the middle of the night to find the neighbour's kid standing there, being threatened by drugs barons, set to endless repeat. There were things I was hoping to hear the conclusion to - did we ever solve the mystery of the wet carpet?? - and yet the novel ended apparently mid-cycle. A bit like when my washing machine breaks down - kind of irritating. I was fascinated by the reviewer on the back cover who reports finishing the book with a "bruised sense of revelation". Now there's a thought. Would I be prepared to take a minor kicking in return for understanding what the hell it was all about? Yeah, maybe.
The beginning of the book was interesting enough that I was happy to continue reading. There was wonderful description of Fremantle which really captured both her beauty and her fickleness. Very quickly, however, I noticed that Winton didn’t use speech marks. Initially this didn’t pose any difficulty for me as I found it was easy to decipher who was speaking due to the way the voice was written. The further into the book I got it became a problem because everyone started sounding the same.
Character development was OK but nothing that really wowed me. We’re introduced to Gemma (a girl that Keely knew from his school days), her grandson Kai, Keely’s sister and mother and some minor characters. My favourite character was probably Keely’s mother, Doris. She was a very strong woman who wouldn’t take any nonsense from anyone least of all her son but her love for him was unmistakable.
In spite of the references to Fremantle and the great descriptions of this part of Western Australia (the reader could see exactly what Winton was describing) I felt this book was lacking in substance and quite honestly I don’t see why Winton is revered as much as he is. This book maybe better as a movie than it proved to be as a book. I’m not sure if I would read anymore of his books by choice.