‘The Shepherd’s Hut’ by Tim Winton – A Missed Opportunity

 

‘The Shepherd’s Hut’ by Tim Winton ( 2018) – 267 pages

‘The Shepherd’s Hut’ starts out strong with a fascinating offbeat family. Fifteen year-old Jaxie Clackton has an all-consuming hatred for his abusive drunken father whom Jaxie calls Captain Wankbag. His father bashes Jaxie regularly, but even worse the father had beat up Jaxie’s beloved mother who has recently died of cancer. Meanwhile Jaxie consoles himself thinking about his distant girlfriend, his first cousin Lee, who is six months younger than Jaxie. Her mother Auntie Marg vehemently disapproves of their relationship as does the rest of Jaxie’s family.

Then old Captain Wankbag dies in a nasty car jacking accident, and Jaxie sets off across Western Australia to join up with his girlfriend Lee. Here is Jaxie driving out of town:

But bugger me, here I am hitting a hundred already and still not even in top gear. On squishy upholstery, with one of them piney tree things jiggling off the mirror. I’m flying. And just sitting on my arse to do it. Off the ground. Out of the dirt. And I’m no kind of beast anymore.”

I was settling in for a delicious family drama or melodrama on the order of Tim Winton’s wonderful probably classic ‘Cloudstreet’. Winton is a master of the Australian argot, and his mastery is on full display here. Jaxie narrates ‘The Shepherd’s Hut’ and his voice is raw, energetic, working class, down-to-earth, and colorful.

However…

However Winton throws this brilliant setup away and forsakes this vivid family story to give us entirely something else, and that is where I think Winton loses his way. Jaxie gets stuck in the harsh desert wilds of Western Australia and meets up with a disgraced old Irish priest named Fintan MacGillis. I expect this priest is supposed to be some enigmatic figure, but he seemed pretty stock to me. The momentum of this novel was lost for me when Jaxie’s family story was totally dropped and instead we’re out in the wilderness with this priest. It probably would have helped if Winton had presented this priest as some sort of father figure for Jaxie replacing old Captain Wankbag, but this is never even considered.

Later Jaxie and Fintan MacGillis must face villains who are nearly nameless and thus of little interest to this reader. So Winton traded an intense family drama for a routine generic adventure story in the Western Australian wilderness with a boring priest as a sidekick.

 

Grade : B

 

7 responses to this post.

  1. That’s too bad. I have Cloudtsreet here to read sometime….

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply

    • Hi Guy,
      ‘Cloudstreet’ was my first Tim Winton, and that was brilliant for me. However now I find myself saying for every Tim Winton novel, “It ain’t no Cloudstreet”. 🙂

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  2. By weird coincidence, Kim has published her review of the same novel today: https://readingmattersblog.com/2018/07/14/the-shepherds-hut-by-tim-winton/
    So now I don’t know what to think!

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply

    • Hi Lisa,
      I guess you will have to read ‘The Shepherd’s Hut’ and make up your own mind. I suppose I am unusual for a male reader in that I prefer human interest psychological and humorous people stories to action and adventure stories, but it is best when they combine both.

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  3. Interesting take, Tony, but if he’d written the story you wanted it would be a completely different novel! I really loved the wilderness / survival take on this story because it’s only when Jaxie is in this foreign environment that he can learn things about himself and whether he’s ready to trust older men again. I do agree the priest was a bit of a cliche but but because we never get his full back story he’s as mysterious and enigmatic as the landscape.

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply

    • Hi Kim,
      I believe you did mention that the ending with the thieves did seem somewhat underdeveloped. I guess I was expecting a lively human story about Jaxie and his father and his girl friend and her family, but instead we got this wilderness survival story with this stranger priest. To me the two parts are like two different novels, and the survival story seemed a bit too generic.

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      Reply

  4. […] I had been following some debate about Winton’s most recent novel, The Shepherd’s Hut in Reading Matters which brought me to this in Tony’s Book World: […]

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