Will you look at us by the river! The whole restless mob of us on spread blankets in the dreamy briny sunshine skylarking and chiacking about for one day, one clear, clean, sweet day in a good world in the midst of our living.
What can I say about Tim Winton’s Cloudstreet that would do it justice, or cover just how much I came to love and laugh and revile and hope for two vastly different families? I am not sure, but I can make an attempt. I really, really liked Cloudstreet, and read it in record time – I couldn’t put it down!
Cloudstreet is the name of a house. Not just any house, but one that lives and breathes and rattles with upset ghosts from the past. Bequeathed to Sam Pickles, a luckless gambler, he can live in the house with his family on the proviso that it is unsold for the next 20 years. To make ends meet, the Pickles family takes in the Lambs as tenants. Where the Pickles are slovenly, the Lambs ‘make war on bad’ and prosper, opening a very successful grocery shop in the front living room. While vastly different, the Pickles and Lamb families find their lives intertwining as their children grow up. The novel spans 20 years and is set in Perth, WA. From the middle of the Second World War to the start of the swinging sixties, the two families attempt to live out the Aussie dream and find meaning and connection for their lives.
For The Pickles, they are always losing out. Sam is a compulsive gambler, Dolly is unhappy and alcoholic, and Rose Pickles hates growing up in the shadow of Dolly’s beauty and dispassion. The Lambs are leaving rural Australia, their farm collapsing under debt and drought. Their second youngest son, Fish Lamb (who is also the semi-narrator of the novel) is left brain damaged after he nearly drowns when the family is prawning in the river. Their seperate tragedies bring the families together and while they are at first distant and suspiscious, they come to value and understand each other as their lives continue to entwine.
I really loved Rose Pickles, she was definitely my favourite character and I was so happy that her storyline worked out in her favour. The cast of Cloudstreet is vibrant and well fleshed out. Characters develop, really, truly change their ways and attitudes, and they behave in a way that is shaped by their histories and the circumstances of their lives.
The novel sprawls the decades and characters in little vignettes. It’s poetic in some, graphically realistic in others. There is an element of mysticism and magic – the house that lives, a pig that talks, Quick Lamb catching hundreds of fish in one night and then being sick for days with his skin glowing silver. It might not sound it, but it works in the novel, bringing it out of a grind of realism and into something a little bit special.
Cloudstreet has been lauded by some as the best Australian novel, and in the year of its release it won the Miles Franklin Award. It is a superb read, a roller-coaster of emotions, and one I highly recommend.