The Shepherd’s Hut…
About the Book:
Jaxie dreads going home. His mum’s dead. The old man bashes him without mercy, and he wishes he was an orphan. But no one’s ever told Jaxie Clackton to be careful what he wishes for.
In one terrible moment his life is stripped to little more than what he can carry and how he can keep himself alive. There’s just one person left in the world who understands him and what he still dares to hope for. But to reach her he’ll have to cross the vast saltlands on a trek that only a dreamer or a fugitive would attempt.
The Shepherd’s Hut is a searing look at what it takes to keep love and hope alive in a parched and brutal world.
Tim Winton is an author who needs no introduction, his work vast and well known throughout Australia. His latest novel, The Shepherd’s Hut, is an urgent tale about a young man who has been let down by every person he has ever encountered; he’s slipped through all the cracks in every system and now, on the cusp of adulthood, he’s shaping up to be exactly what everyone expected him to be: his father – a specimen of male toxicity made to order. Can you escape your legacy? Is there any point even trying? Winton examines this as he plunges us into Jaxie and the immersion is so entire that you truly feel as though you are there, in the moment, observing everything without barrier.
Jaxie is not a character you’re meant to like, but he is someone I had a well of empathy for. Jaxie is what you get when people shrug and turn the other way in the face of domestic violence and unchecked bullying. Jaxie is who evolves when complacency kicks in. What you turn away from is what you accept and Winton draws this conclusion very clearly, very early on in the novel. But Jaxie is also a human being, craving connection, harbouring hope; it’s not too late for Jaxie, although he’s cutting it very fine, yet he’s aware of this, of what he doesn’t want to be, of who he doesn’t want to turn out like. I can’t commend Tim Winton enough for his insight into this characteristic of an abused child: in the absence of not knowing who you are, knowing who you don’t want to be can sometimes be enough to get you there in the end.
Human connection runs like a vein through all of Winton’s work. It humbles me, how he brings everything back to this basic need with such precision. Fintan is a mystery, the who and why of him never really clarified, and it doesn’t matter in the end because of the gift he gives Jaxie at such a pivotal time in this young man’s existence.
“I think he knew I was there. He felt me. He always knew what I was. He saw me coming before I knew I was even there. And now I saw him too.”
Did I think by the end that Jaxie was going to be okay? Not really, but he did, and that’s all that matters. Hope is a powerful motivator.
This is a brutal novel, make no mistake, the depravity of humans unmasked and hung out to dry. The vastness of the Australian outback is depicted with a harsh reality and a sense of knowing that this is a place that people can easily disappear into. Jaxie’s voice is so completely authentic; he is one of Winton’s finest characters to date.
“It was like I started wanting him to speak as much as those arseholes did. Maybe more. To make it stop. But also so I could know what Fintan really thought. About who I was. Maybe even what I was. All of a sudden this was deadly important. My heart was bursting to know. And I wouldn’t care if he did give me up. Christ, I wished he would. If only he’d say something true about me. It would be worth it just to hear.”
Thanks is extended to Penguin Random House Australia for providing me with a copy The Shepherd’s Hut for review.
About the Author:
Tim Winton has published twenty-nine books for adults and children, and his work has been translated into twenty-eight languages. Since his first novel, An Open Swimmer, won the Australian Vogel Award in 1981, he has won the Miles Franklin Award four times (for Shallows, Cloudstreet, Dirt Music and Breath) and twice been shortlisted for the Booker Prize (for The Riders and Dirt Music). He lives in Western Australia.