Book Review – “Cloudstreet”, Tim Winton

I have just finished reading a book about me. About my life, my family and my times.

Tim Winton set “Cloudstreet” in places I knew as a child during the times I knew as a child. This made it a very disturbing read. I rediscovered a lot of myself which the years had dimmed.

The people. The old blokes who drank and smoked and gambled and somehow lost everything except themselves. The blokes who had gone away to war and came back changed. The blokes whom had gone through the Great Depression as unemployed scroungers. Their women who coped with all that life threw at them. The kids like me who grew up and out of this mishmash.

The places. I lived in the Wheatbelt where my father was the Repertory Club person who spent his working days trying to learn about contour plowing and killing excess kangaroos while dreaming of being a radio announcer. Who always seemed to have ladies who were friends and in retrospect perhaps that is why we moved so often.The slow-flowing Swan River with its jetties and jelly-fish and the all-pervading pong from its mudflats. The suburbs close to Perth; Subiaco, Shenton Park and the posher Nedlands with its University, Mosman Park and Cottesloe. OK, I lived on the other side of the River, Belmont and Bentley in those days before the Narrows Bridge when it was necessary to travel through Victoria Park and across the Causeway to the City. As a new driver, I drove through bushland which over a couple of decades became the “Northern Suburbs” with all their sterility and pretension right before my eyes.

The times. Growing through schools, many, with friends who lasted until the next move. Dreaming, like Rose, of something better. The heiress girlfriend from the posh suburb and the embarrassment of meeting her friends. The fears of being a man, like Quick. Unable to cope fully with the expectations of society and relying on a mother, a wife, to cover the cracks in my being. The very real monster who, among so many killings,  killed the babysitter who had been in my class at high school and who was the last man hanged in Western Australia. The discovery of sex and the realisation that my parents knew nothing about it. The pressure of examinations, the constant lack of money, the part time jobs selling newspapers. The expectation that you would get a job and stay in that organisation for the rest of your working life.

The sense of belonging. No matter how rich or poor, how educated or uneducated, if your family was from “The West” then you belonged. We were isolated, we were overlooked. Everything that happened, happened elsewhere. We were a state, separate from the rest of Australia; Perth, a country town which hoped to become a city. We had differences amongst ourselves but we were united against all outsiders. Until the “Monster” we did not lock our doors. We did not lock our cars. We trusted each other. And another of the monster’s sons grew up to important positions and great respect in the community. Somehow, most of us grew up and away from those post-war roots. Never realising where we had come from and what we lost in all that we gained.

The book. I heard about “Cloudstreet” when it was first released. I chose not to read it because what interest could there be in the streets I knew, in the people I knew? I finally decided to read it. It was a task done slowly as I relived so much of my own life. At the end I had to agree with Sister Veronica Brady, noted Nun of our parish, who reviewed the novel for our local newspaper. She said, “It is, I suspect, a masterpiece.”

I can but agree. A masterpiece and a work of genius and a bloody good read.

18 responses to “Book Review – “Cloudstreet”, Tim Winton

  1. Brilliant review. Moving, memory-awakening, loving. Well done, Archie!

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  2. Thanks for the review. I think I will have to find this one and read it, if for nothing else to get a feel for Perth’s past, and therefore some of yours.

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  3. What a wonderful review, Archie. Obviously there is much more to this book for you than there was for me, but I still think it’s one of the best books I’ve ever read and agree that it’s a masterpiece. Now you should give “Dirt Music” a go.

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  4. Pingback: Finding your life in a book « Lori’s Book Nook

  5. This novel is a good read once the first few chapters have been read as the language content of this novel is hard to comprehend and relate to. This is also difficult for a modern Brisbane auidience to relate to as it is in a different state.

    Overall this an excellent written piece of work by Tim Winton and therefore I recommend it as a novel that you must read.

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  6. Matthew, yep, it is good stuff. And it opens eyes to a past which was not all that long ago. I remember my grandparents talking about living through the Great Depression. This book fills in a gap for me and helps me explain to my grandchildren about living through the 50’s and 60’s.

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  7. wow..its amazing hw much u can relate to this book..your review was wonderful..it helped me as im studying cloudstreet as one of my texts this year~ so thnk you..i hope you’ll post more reviews on other aspects of cloudstreet~

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  8. stardusts, I don’t see another review of Cloudstreet coming from my keyboard but thank you for your very kind words and I am glad what I did write was helpful. The reason I related to it was because I lived in that time and in those places.

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  9. Cloudstreet is the worst book I have ever read in my life. It receives so much praise and acclamation, named a “masterpiece” and more; but, personally, it bored me to tears. The spiritual elements were overdone and verging on tacky and the overall text was depressing and disheartening. If i had the choice I would have stopped afte page two when i reached the line “the beautiful, the beautiful the river.” I mean, that doesn’t even make sense!! Winton is a professional author, yet he can’t write grammatically correct sentences and use quotation marks. GAY

    It sounds like this has been read as part of an Eng Lit course. My Eng Lit course led me to the conclusion that Charles Dickens was a fraud. I still think so. My opinion of Shakespeare, however, has changed dramatically! Just a suggestion, try re-reading it in about twenty years or so, when a lot more experience and many more books have flowed beneath the bridge.

    I found it hard to read because I felt as though I was reliving my own life. Depressing? Not to my way of thinking. They survived, they had children who grew up. That is all that was expected back in the 40’s and 50’s. Before Women’s Lib, before Political Correctness. They lived. So many didn’t.

    As for your comment about “the beautiful, the beautiful the river.” This was Fish speaking, thinking, repeating something he would have heard sung in church (it is a line from a Hymn) just before the penultimate scene in the book, where his attraction to the water becomes too much for him. That is the source of the “ungrammatical sentence” and the source of the event. While it is a quotation, it is a part of a “stream of consciousness” and quotation marks would break that stream. The whole novel is, on one level, the flashing of Fish’s whole life before him as he drowns.

    Hey, a good author leaves some of the work for the reader!

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    • “While it is a quotation, it is a part of a “stream of consciousness” and quotation marks would break that stream.”

      I think (and correct me if I’m wrong) that suppp was referring to the lack of quotation marks around dialogue within the novel.

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  10. I loved this review! You have drawn me into your memories and childhood while giving a beautiful recount of an exceptional book.
    I am a year 12 student studying this book and have written many responses to this book on my blog, It is perhaps more informative and less personal, however, a personal voice can always be found somewhere in a response. I do have one criticism for Winton though, the way that I felt he positioned readers, was in a slightly xenophobic way, almost a fear of multiculturalism and change. I have grown up in the same country town where Tim Winton has lived the majority of his life, and he has been trying to keep this country town as a ‘beach shack’ town, protesting against any change. There are no high schools in this town and kids drop out of school and are given very little option for their lives. I love Cloudstreet, however Tim Winton’s negative portrayal of change and culture (Toby Raven) doesn’t really encourage acceptance of differences and the persuite of wisdom.

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  11. Thank you for the kind words, lantacko. If I may comment on the xenophobia issue. West Aussies of my age, and older, have a fear of the outsiders. It is now best seen in the attitude towards Victorians in football yet fifty years ago it was a much stronger instinct. We had been left out of “Defensible Australia” by those in the east and it took a long time for trust to be restored. I remember driving across the Nullabor in the early 70’s when much of the road on the South Australian side of the border was still gravel. South Australia saw no need to encourage tourism to the West.
    So, YES, we older sandgropers were a xenophobic lot. Sometimes that rubs off onto younger generations.

    btw, say hi to your schoolmates who recently visited Punmu. They probably saw me around the community.

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  12. “The blokes whom had gone through the Great Depression as unemployed scroungers. Their women…”
    Sorry, did you just say ‘THEIR women” ?
    Do you mind taking the I and the R off that word please?

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  13. Hiya Nikki. I thought long and hard before I used that phrase. This is a book which has real history in it. In “those” days, before we all became politically correct, before I marched against the Vietnam War, before I marched FOR the environment and before I supported equal rights for women, a woman was judged by her man just as a man was judged by his job. Much as we would like it to be different in these, probably temporarily, enlightened days, the phrase as I used it is historically correct.

    Women saw themselves as belonging to their husband. Mary Smith (married to John Smith) was not addressed as Mrs M Smith But as Mrs J Smith. Some men still have that ownership problem and it is exposed in tragic murders of women and children when relationships break down.

    If we do not remember our history accurately then we may be doomed to repeat the same mistakes.

    So, the I and the R remain 🙂

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  14. I tried hard with this book but found it dense and incredibly boring. It may have worked as a short story but it was as though the author wanted us to know and understand every speck of dust along the way. Was he paid per word and therefore had to make the book as long as possible??? I found the characters dull and I just couldn’t warm to any of them. I am amazed that Tim Winton is considered such a good writer?

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    • Thank God I’m not the only one who didn’t like Cloudstreet! I was beginning to think I was all alone.
      I have never been a fan of Tim Winton. I read Scission (his collection of short stories) for a high-school Lit class about seven years ago, and wrote a particularly scathing review of it as my assignment – much to the horror of my teacher.
      This year I decided to give him another shot, just in case Cloudstreet turned out to be as wonderful as all the reviews would have me believe… but after reading it, my opinion of his writing remains the same. Usually a book of this length would take me a week at most to finish reading, but it ended up taking me nearly three weeks because I just couldn’t get interested in the characters.
      Beyond that, I found the writing itself to be very jarring – every sentence seemed forced. It is almost as if he was trying too hard to be literary, and as a result it has ended up sounding flowery and verbose.
      As someone who reads a lot of novels, I find it incredibly frustrating when I come across an awful book (in my opinion) that everyone seems to love. I put a lot of effort into reading Cloudstreet, and am, more than anything else, just disappointed that I could not find any cause for the huge amount of praise that it has received.

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      • Thank you for being honest, Pamela and Cassandra. I admit to going into the book expecting to be bored. That I wasn’t, I believe, was due to it being my life combined with the skill of Tim Winton to bring back those memories. Regardless, I am glad that different people like different books. Wouldn’t life be boring if we all liked the same thing 🙂

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