I thank heavens I didn’t give up on this one, having started it a couple of years ago and let it drift onto some nominal pile of ‘not sure why I’ve put this down’ books. Last week it got its second chance when I took it to Berlin figuring it would either get read, or get left. In fact my nose was scarcely out of it.
It’s a stunning achievement, Australian through and through, but utterly universal in its themes: at the risk of this being a spoiler, it is about the journey to understanding there is not us and them, only us. The book’s 25 years old – there is probably a generation of people who could learn something for our time by reading it.
Much as I loved the idiom, the settings both rural and urban, the philosophy and the story-line, for me the thing that stood out was the depiction of men and women. I was constantly reminded of The Man Who Loved Children made good, its odd flaws fixed by Winton’s empathetic touch for his struggling characters. They are all wonderful, but gosh he has a deft touch with the females. Oriel is a masterpiece, a character who should not be forgotten, the more so because she stands for the vast sea of strong, suffering women that are our history. Their deprivations made our material wealth. We walk on their graves and we should be forever mindful that we do so.