The Shepherd's Hutby Tim Winton Published 12 Mar 2018
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For years Jaxie Clackton has dreaded going home. His beloved mum is dead, and he wishes his dad was too, until one terrible moment leaves his life stripped to nothing. No one ever told Jaxie Clackton to be careful what he wishes for.
And so Jaxie runs. There’s just one person in the world who understands him, but to reach her he’ll have to cross the vast saltlands of Western Australia. It is a place that harbours criminals and threatens to kill those who haven't reckoned with its hot, waterless vastness. This is a journey only a dreamer - or a fugitive - would attempt.
Fierce and lyrical, The Shepherd's Hut is a story of survival, solitude and unlikely friendship. Most of all it is about what it takes to keep hope alive in a parched and brutal world.
"The Shepherd's Hut" Reviews
Even though it was years ago, I remember when I first discovered Tim Winton . I would frequently spend part of a Sunday afternoon at my favorite bookstore which sadly is no longer in existence. I would browse the shelves not looking for anything in particular and I picked up Cloudstreet because I was attracted to the title. I bought it, read it and loved it . After that I read Dirt Music and Breath. I was drawn to read this because of my enjoyment of those novels. If you haven’t read Winton, I would recommend starting with one of his earlier works. If you are a Winton fan, I definitely recommend it.
This is the raw and rough to read story of Jaxie Clackton, a teenage boy on the run through the brutal and wild outback, not for anything he’s done but for what’s been done to him. He’s on the run from his miserable young life of physical abuse and feeling like the outcast. The first part of the book, a profile in loneliness is rather sad as Jaxie recounts his past. He’s a pitiful soul, in spite of the rough talk and vulgarity . He has no family or friends , only the fear of being caught for something he didn’t do and the hope that he could get to the girl he loves, his cousin. He’s tough but vulnerable when he crosses paths with Fintan MacGillis, an ex priest, living a secluded life in the wild. It’s this unlikely friendship that impacts Jaxie on his way forward.
I have to admit that I didn’t quite get all of the slang and had to google a few words if I couldn’t guess the meaning. Some of the more profane were easy to guess. If you are sensitive to this, it may not be for you. Another warning - there is killing of animals for food but there is one scene of animal cruelty that was hard to read. In spite of these reservations, I thought it was a moving story of a boy’s journey to manhood.
I received an advanced copy of this book from Farrah, Straus and Giroux through NetGalley.
Jackson "Jaxie" Clackton, 16 years old, was continually abused by his dad, Sid Clackton. Clackton, master butcher in the town of Monkton, used Jaxie as a punching bag. Jaxie was a bad tempered school delinquent nicknamed "Jaxie Horsemeat" by his peers. In turn, he enjoyed punching students for ill-treating him. Jaxie was currently nursing a black eye given to him during one of Clackton's drunken rages. Wishing and hoping his dad would die, imagine his shock finding his father crushed under a car, Apparently, the vehicle slipped off a high-lift jack in the shed. Fear of being blamed for his father's death caused Jaxie to quickly leave home. He headed north for Magnet, approximately 300 kilometers from Monkton. His meager supplies included an Igloo jug, a rifle with ammo, four oranges and a pair of binoculars.
Jaxie knew how to hunt and butcher, however, all he had with him for butchering was a butter knife. His trip plan was as follows: keep his "sh**" together, rest, find water, and get to Magnet to see girlfriend Lee, the one person he felt connected to. Soon, his Igloo jug was pretty near empty, his bad eye throbbed and his rifle was getting mighty heavy. His trek across the vast Australian Outback was brutal and unforgiving. He must replenish his water supply, and soon. Finally, he happened upon the hut of Fintan MacGinnis, a singing, loquacious Irishman who claimed that his abode, in the middle of nowhere, was his refuge as well as exile. Fintan, a mysterious solitary man encouraged Jaxie to stay for a while.
Two souls, one starting life's journey while the other's journey winding down, are both damaged individuals. Was any human connection possible? The harshness and brutalities of life were ever present in this novel, be they the unforgiving land or the cruelty of one's fellow man. The colorful, vernacular language definitely gave "The Shepherd's Hut" a gritty, hardscrabble feel. As a reader unfamiliar with the writing of Tim Winton, I was unaware that he is one of Australia's most acclaimed authors. "The Shepherd's Hut" was an awesome and excellent introduction to Winton's literary gems! I highly recommend this book!
Thank you Farrar, Straus and Giroux and Net Galley for the opportunity to read and review "The Shepherd's Hut".
It is a big event in the Australian publishing world whenever Tim Winton comes up with a new book. This highly anticipated novel didn’t disappoint. The more I think about it, the more I’m impressed. I mean, I shouldn’t be, because it’s Tim Freakin’ Winton. Every author has the right to come up with duds now and then. You probably heard people-in-the-know bemoaning the dying literary novel etc. It may be so, but don’t tell that to the many people who buy Tim Winton’s novels. Case in point, a few weeks after its release, this is still in the top 10 bestseller list.
On the surface, The Sheperd’s Hut is a simple novel about an abused fifteen-year-old, Jaxie Clackton, fleeing his hometown. He thinks the police is after him, so he hides in the outback, although he’s unprepared. This is the solitary walkabout of a white teenager, on the path to adulthood.
Jaxie’s is a story of survival, both spiritual and physical. He's such an interesting bloke. To be honest, when I heard this was a first person POV novel, I feared I won’t like it, especially given my previous experience with much loved Australian novels which also featured kids/teenagers (Jasper Jones, The Choke). So, I didn’t expect to be so taken with Jaxie, to care so much.
I must applaud Winton for having the audacity to use the language he did, although if anyone can get away with it, it’s him. The language is rough, Australian slang and expletives heavy – but it felt authentic. In spite of the lower class language in use, Winton succeded to write a very atmospheric novel. And all this about the outback, which is mostly dry and flat.
The novel has only two protagonists, Jaxie and the old, Irish recluse he meets in the outback. Their relationship was interesting and unexpected. Winton steered clear from sentimentality, I admire that a great deal.
The Sheperd’s Hut is a masterfully crafted novel, unique, with unforgettable characters and it's quintessentially Australian. In my view, this novel has the makings of an Australian classic novel, just like Cloudstreet.
This novel goes towards my Australian Author Challenge on www.bookloverbooksreviews.com.
Brutal. That is the word that best describes Tim Winton’s new novel, The Shepherd’s Hut. Brutal. I felt bruised and winded on finishing it. Parched and dusty. I stared around me and the familiar was unfamiliar. The valued, valueless.
Jaxie Clackton is a speck on the huge expanse of the WA desert. He is on the run from the law. The outcast’s outcast just desperate to find the one person who really gets him.
And that’s all I want to tell you. The rest you can find out for yourself. And you will find out because you will read it. Everyone will be reading it. This book is set to be an Australian classic.
Another classic, that is. Because Tim Winton has already written Cloudstreet, Dirt Music, Breath and the others. And we come back to Tim Winton because there is always something true in what he writes – a truth that can’t be blurted out or rolled into a neat little aphorism, but has to be felt or experienced through the telling. He is Australia’s truth teller and The Shepherd’s Hut is truth at its most brutal.
The truth is I’ve been reluctant to pick up another Tim Winton book, I tried reading Cloudstreet back in my early 20’s and only managed a third of the book before abandoning it, so for me I wasn’t overly enthusiast about picking this book up. But I’m sure glad I did. This felt different to Cloudstreet as the writing here feels raw, intense and brutal it’s a story that wasn’t easy to read but I was compelled nevertheless. The Australian remote bush setting and the language was used effectively to draw me into Jaxies’ story. The language is as rough as Jaxie himself, but it’s also it’s charm if you can get past the Aussie vernacular, it is not at all diluted, non Australian readers might struggle!
I wasn’t sure where the story was headed but I was invested until the last section where it sort of fell off and ended quite abruptly. It’s clear that Tim Winton is a writer with immense talent so I’m pleased that this book cemented my faith in him again. I might even polish off Cloudstreet finally...It was a solid 4 stars until the rushed ending.
“I peered up the street through the shadows and just to squint that tiniest bit hurt to the living f**k. When I touched me face it felt like a punkin full of razor blades.”
Jaxie Clackton, 15, has just come to and escaped after being knocked out and tossed in the bone bin by his father in his butcher shop. Just the latest of the many times he’s survived a beating at the hands of Captain Wankbag, as he calls him, or the Cap.
Mum says that’s not respectful. Well, yeah, it’s not. And her point is?
Jaxie has to help out in the butcher shop but tries hard to stay out of his father's way. He knows what he's capable of and that he could do far worse than punch his head in.
“I hear the rattle. The knife pouch. The steels and blades. The sound of death.”
The Cap is friends with a local cop and gets away with a lot. Jaxie gets known at school as Horsemeat Claxton.
“Just before a summer storm one time when the Cap was away shooting horses and sawing them into prime Angus beef.”
Jaxie speaks in his own distinctive voice, reminiscing while he’s on the run in the bush. He’s a pretty self-sufficient kid, can shoot straight, cook a lizard, skin and butcher a roo – but he’s still a kid. While he remembered to grab a water jug with the rest of his gear when he took off, he forgot a hat and a knife! Of all things, a knife! And a tin opener for the tins he grabbed. He’s a kid, but he’s not afraid to make fun of himself for these oversights.
Mum was nice but distant, and he never understood why she chose and married his father, but he’s determined he will do better with Lee, with whom he’s decided he’s in love and who lives “north” somewhere. That’s his destination.
Like the author, Jaxie is at home in the bush. Even at school, he enjoyed detention because he could sit out on the verandah and watch the peewees, busy little black and white birds.
“There was a couple would come right in off the quadrangle. Every time. Right in under the verandah there to the bench where I was always parked up. Come just to my feet. Neither one much bigger than your hand. Sticking their chests out, making that noise to see me off or just see what I’d do. And remembering that made me happy.
. . .
It was worth catching the bus to sit out under the verandah all day and look at the flagpole and watch them aggro little peewees. Safer than staying home, I’ll give you the tip.”
No, home certainly wasn’t safe. And he’s seen so much of the bad stuff in life, that you wonder if anything can make it better. He was taken to see Nanna laid out after she died and told to brush her hair.
“Nanna was the first dead person I ever saw. . . I was eight then maybe. And I really didn’t want to touch her . . . Her hair was blue against the pillow. And when me hand bumped her cheek she was cold and heavy and a kind of spark went through me, like a terrible familiar feeling. And I understood it then. She was meat. That’s what dead things are. She was gone but not gone. Meat is something gone and not gone. it didn’t feel right. Never really does.”
You don’t like to think of an eight-year-old thinking like that. And at 15, he’s very childish in some respects and way too experienced in others. He's one of what Winton calls the spiky boys that everyone knows.
A school psychologist simply asked if everything was okay at home, Jaxie said of course, and she went away, happy. Sounds ridiculous, but I know it happens. Poor kid.
He's a sensitive soul, really. He stumbles on an empty shack.
“There’s a sad feeling in a place people have just walked out of and left behind. Could be only me thinks shit like this. And you could probably say there’s plenty houses feel just as sad with people still in them. God knows our place was one of them for sure. . . Somehow it’s more lonely than being on your own in the bush.”
There are plenty of reviews about how the story goes, but I’ll leave Jaxie here, early on in his escape, and mention just one of the countless descriptions for which I love to read Winton’s work.
“The sun got low. All the shadows stretched out past me towards the hut and crept up to that old man’s feet. They were like dogs on their bellies to him.”
Winton puts us in the mulga, the scrub, the lakes of salt with their mirages and a kind of quicksand (quicksalt?), and in the fierce weather of this part of Western Australia. And we learn that they aren’t the only things to worry about in this lonely country. Winton says when he writes, he always starts with place.
“‘I don't set out to write a novel about anything,’ Winton explained.
‘I don't do themes or issues, I just write about a place and the scum that bubbles up out of it, which is the humans. I just follow them and see what gives.’
The scum that bubbles up in The Shepherd's Hut is Jaxie.”
Winton may not pick a theme or an issue to write a story about, but his strong feelings and opinions about right and wrong, boys and men, and the bush will always find their way to the surface - bubble up with the scum, as he might have said.
I can never recommend him highly enough. He’s one of those writers who manages to convey such a strong sense of place and character with very few words. And they aren’t your two-dollar words either, as a friend of mine used to call them. His writing is accessible and easy but oh, so thought-provoking.
“He talked so f**king much it was like a junkpile he chucked at you. You had to sort through all these bent up words to figure which was bulls**and which was true.”
Simple, but later he shows why we need to do better by our boys and young men so they don’t keep replicating the silent and/or violent models they may live with. Jaxie had almost nobody to learn from.
“Us Clacktons never done our thinking out aloud. Or our talking neither really. Wankbag only ever talked about what he could hold in his hand. Before he closed his fist on it and clubbed you with it. And Mum, I wonder if she ever could tell me what she wanted. In the end she had nothing to say to me at all. Maybe too much talk’s better than that.”
I’m happy to have as much talk as Tim Winton is capable of chucking at us, but nobody in their right mind could call it junk.