Eyrie by Tim Winton
Tom Keely, the hero of Tim Winton’s latest novel, is a fallen man. We meet him after a night ‘getting off his chops on the fruit of the Barossa’ and an unhealthy dose of prescription meds. The recently divorced, once-successful environmental activist has secluded himself in his ‘seedy little eyrie’ – a cramped tenth-floor apartment overlooking the Port of Fremantle – to get blotto and heap scorn on the world that he’s forsaken.
Meanwhile, Western Australia – ‘China’s swaggering enabler’ – continues to prosper. From Keely’s apartment he can see the tankers, laden with minerals, making their way out through the sea’s ‘brothy haze’. They’re a floating metaphor of what Keely fought to protect. But his battle against the mining magnates, developers and corrupt politicians has left him ‘skint in every possible sense’. It’s a world that he wants to forget: ‘One more fawning profile of a self-made iron heiress and he’d mix himself a Harpic Wallbanger and be done with it.’
But Keely’s retirement plan is hijacked by his neighbour, Gemma Buck, and her grandson, Kai. Gemma, a figure from Keely’s past, dredges up memories that he was busy trying to drown. She also brings with her a new kind of trouble, stirring Keely’s rescue instinct.
In his last novel, Breath, Winton contrasted his characters’ tumult with beautiful surfing passages and sweeping portraits of coastal landscapes. Set mostly in Fremantle, Eyrie offers little such respite. The backdrop to Keely, Gemma and Kai’s struggles is the spectre of environmental catastrophe caused by the mining boom.
Cutting through the bleakness is the self-deprecating voice of Keely, whose grizzled commentary on everything from dog shit to Gina Rinehart is often hilarious. The writing is elegant and admirably true to where it’s from; Winton crafts poetry from the salty Australian vernacular.
This, Winton’s tenth novel, is a complex, exhilarating work that provides valuable insight into contemporary life in a compromised Australia. It’s also a ripping good read.
Joseph Rubbo is a bookseller at Readings Carlton.