The Shepherd's Hut by Tim Winton
PUBLISHED BY PENGUIN AUSTRALIA
REVIEW BY ANITA LAURIDSEN
As with many of his previous works, Winton evokes a strong sense of place in The Shepherd’s Hut. The coastal landscape of many of his novels is replaced here with the barren and fierce setting of the mid-west goldfields. In typical Wintonesque style, the landscape becomes another character, sometimes antagonistic, but always realised in a fresh and quintessentially Australian way. Winton is indeed a master at capturing the beautiful-ugliness of the Aussie outback.
The Shepherd’s Hut is quite different to the existing Winton oeuvre in many respects. Yes, he evokes a strong sense of place and the landscape is beautifully drawn as always, but this narrative is character-driven and it is the damaged adolescent, Jaxie Clackton, who is the real star here. It took me a while to get my head around his vernacular, but once I did, I was totally engaged and found Jaxie’s voice utterly compelling and convincing.
This is a narrative which is gritty and harsh and violent, but ultimately redemptive. Jaxie Clackton is a marvellous creation and one of Winton’s most memorable characters. Although he initially presents as an angry and disaffected youth, the victim of a dysfunctional and abusive family, he is a complex character and ultimately emerges at the novel’s end as a vulnerable young man whose unique voice is hard to forget.
The marginalisation of female characters is another Wintonesque trademark that may irk some. Like so many other of Winton’s works, the females in The Shepherd’s Hut are absent or flawed, though Lee (Jaxie’s cousin and love interest) is in many ways Jaxie’s salvation, a symbol of hope and redemption. Besides, Winton writes male characters so convincingly, why not stick to what has clearly been a winning formula? The Shepherd’s Hut in its representation of male dominance and power is a realistic examination of the kind of toxic masculinity that is unfortunately a hallmark of so many young males’ journey to adulthood in our contemporary society.
With its universal themes of power, loneliness, survival and unlikely friendship, The Shepherd’s Hut is guaranteed a wide readership. The frequent use of expletives, the idiosyncratic voice of the protagonist/narrator, together with the sometimes shocking nature of the content, may alienate some readers. These stylistic choices are not gratuitous, however, but necessary in constructing a story that is a profound representation of one young man’s unforgettable journey of self-discovery.
Find this novel in store at Planet Books. Ask the friendly staff for guidance too, and they’ll be more than happy to order you in a copy if it’s already sold out.