Tim Winton is basically a superstar in terms of Australian literary history. Every time he writes a book, the Miles Franklin judges are practically like ‘Oh, Tim, just take the award. Just take it!’ If this were high school (and we lived in America), Tim Winton would be the cool, drama kid who reluctantly accepts the award of prom king, after turning up to the event as an ironic statement about the bourgeoisie society that we live in.
Essentially, Tim Winton is that hipster on Brunswick Street (non-Melburnians, I recommend you Google that one) that you kinda don’t want to like, but you do, because he’s so cool. And just to cement that theory, I just Googled Tim Winton, and the first photo that shows up is him, with long hair and a black turtleneck. Cliche fulfilled.
Aside from all this though, up until recently I hadn’t read any Tim Winton books. Which is weird for two reasons (aside from my above ramblings): first, practically every ‘literary’ person in Melbourne appears to have read Cloudstreet and loved it, and second, up until 30 seconds ago when I Google’d him, I’d pictured Tim Winton as an exact replica of my high school English teacher. Who I’d loved, because, hello, English nerd.
So, obviously, I decided enough was enough and I had to change that. Earlier this year, I woefully admitted that my knowledge of Australian authors was terribly inadequate, and that I needed to make a change. While I’ve read some Ruth Park and Timothy Conigrave since that statement, it wasn’t until about a week ago that I picked up Tim Winton’s In the Winter Dark. Lo and behold, like many Australian classics, it’s set in the lonely outback, with a black centre at its core.
In the Winter Dark follows the lives of four near-strangers who live in the Sink, a lonely valley in the outback. Though they are neighbours, they seldom interact with one another, and each has a dark secret in their past. One evening, Murray’s dog is killed and eaten by an unknown figure, and Ronnie’s goat and birds are completely torn apart. What thing in the night is literally pulling apart their lives? Could it be an errant animal, fuelled by years of isolation and evolution? Or is it just a way to trick one another, as part of an elaborate and cruel prank, while someone watches from the sides?
A short novel, In the Winter Dark is one of those rare novels that goes from first to third person perspective without causing any strain or confusion for the reader. Winton has a sparse, strangely emotionless way of writing, that still manages to capture the reader’s attention. Though he isn’t over the top with adjectives, and his descriptions are left to a bare minimum, I felt oddly as though I could picture the loneliness of the Sink, and of the heart-wrenching, confusing emotions that are gathering momentum inside each of the characters.
Considering that there are so few characters, and essentially the one scene throughout the novel, Winton has done a captivating job of creating a story that is thick with nuances, tensions and emotions. He is the epitome of a writer who ‘shows, but doesn’t tell’ – he somehow leads the reader to do all of the work, often without us realising it. Cheeky! This sparse writing also fuelled the plot of the story, which hinted at so much, while revealing very little.
In the Winter Dark is a perfect thriller – one that keeps you guessing, while building to a crescendo that you know isn’t going to end well. It isn’t black and white, and though it may be slightly frustrating to end the book without definitive answers, it also means that you’re left pondering the themes in the novel for days afterwards. Screaming with literary motifs and clues, its overt plot repetitively points to the hazier, indistinguishable emotions that are inside each of the characters.
I would definitely recommend In the Winter Dark, and after reading it, I will admit that I feel like a bit of a dill for not picking up one of Tim Winton’s books earlier. Apparently, sometimes if everyone is reading it, it IS because it’s a good book! Other times, not so much.
Have you read In the Winter Dark? Have you read any of Tim Winton’s books? Let me know!