Today’s review: Eyrie
Author: Tim Winton
Publisher: Hamish Hamilton – Penguin Australia
Number of pages: 352
Genre: Contemporary/ Drama
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 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..
Tom Keely’s life is far from ideal. He’s divorced and detached, his career as an active environmentalist has crumbled around him, and he’s utterly broke. Far from the comfort of the home he left, Keely isolates himself from the cruelty of the outside world in his tenth-floor flat in the seedy, rundown Mirador in Fremantle, Western Australia. He drinks, pops pills and broods the day away, and the next day he does it all over again. He keeps his head down, he doesn’t draw attention to himself. Then suddenly one day, everything changes.
Returning to his flat on a particularly scorching day, Keely sees for the first time his neighbor from two doors down. Gemma Buck; a memory from a childhood long forgotten. She is weathered and hardened by the years and the hardships life has thrown at her, and here she stands before him again, as beautiful as she ever was, and with a grandson in tow. Little Kai is like nothing Keely has ever seen before. He knows far too much of the harshness of the world for someone so young, and the weight of burden he carries on his shoulders makes him even smaller, lost and afraid in a world overrun by corruption and crime. What starts off as mere passing encounters soon becomes something more. Soon, Keely finds himself with two more people in his life to worry about, whether he likes it or not.
Over time, Keely ever so slowly draws closer to Gemma and Kai. However, Gemma’s dark past begins to creep up on all of them, and they soon find themselves glancing over their shoulders wherever they go. Kai is also afraid. Afraid that his unsettled and traumatic childhood will repeat itself all over again, and he withdraws within himself, desperate to find comfort in his own mind. For the first time, it is up to Keely to pull himself together to keep this small, mismatched family from falling apart.
As the dangers of Fremantle’s dirty underbelly lurk nearer, Keely finds small measures of his old idealism beginning to seep through from under his grimy layers of depression and self-loathing. With the added responsibility of keeping two broken people from shattering completely, Keely decides to take it upon himself to initiate action, putting his own safety on the line for those he loves.
I found Tim Winton’s Eyrie to be a beautiful read. The whole book was rich in colourful imagery and each scene were was enriched with the most exquisite language. Tom Keely was a very observant, if very cynical, narrator, and to see the hot, dirty, shabby side of Western Australian life was an experience in itself. Winton breathes life into Keely through inner dialogue rich in Australian slang. For those outside of the country, you might need to consult an urban dictionary now and then, but for those who know a little of Australian life, it makes the story and it’s characters all the more loveable and relatable. Gemma Buck is also a character the reader grows to love. The victim of a lifetime of abuse and hardship, Gemma is a tough nut who works her hardest every day to provide for herself and her grandson Kai. She has been driven to the point of giving up hope that life will ever be better for them, and Keely is on the outside looking in. Through her, Keely finds his own strength and sense of purpose, for he comes to realise that it’s up to him to hold this broken little family together. The only character I couldn’t seem to find much connection to was Kai. He has grown up in a world of fear and dysfunction, and as a result he has retreated within himself, closing up like a clam to all affection. He is a mysterious child who knows far too much of the world for his age, even with his experience, and it was the level of intelligence that he possessed that didn’t really sell it for me.
Although rather slow at times, the book was enjoyable to read. There isn’t much in terms of action, so one should not enter this expecting high levels of drama and suspense. To look at it from a different perspective would be to see it as portraying an almost realistic type of life story; nothing overly dramatic, but enough events happening in the protagonist’s life to keep the story moving and deliver an effective message. There were some tense moments that kept me turning the pages, and I never found myself nearing boredom whilst I was reading. Winton takes on a very critical view of Western Australian life, and he expresses his frustrations and observations through Keely and his views on the world around him. The novel does become quite dark at times, and it sometimes left me feeling a little down after reading- it’s not exactly sunshine and rainbows, but it is beautiful, thoughtful and observant nonetheless.
I would certainly recommend giving this a read. It’s an enlightening perspective on a world run by corruption and materialism and provides an insight into the mind of Tim Winton and his views on society.
Tim Winton’s Eyrie is a dark, haunting story. It tests the boundaries and limits of the human spirit when confronted with the peril of a world lacking hope, and questions the integrity of humanity and what drives us to do right by others, even if it puts us in the firing line.