Although I’m all for a bit of literary liberty-taking, the grammatical purist in me would never have expected to be so taken with a novel that shows such disregard for basic punctuation as Cloudstreet by prolific Australian author Tim Winton.
The language of Cloudstreet is dense, yet flowing, as Winton eschews formal apostrophe-style dialogue for simple hyphens to denote spoken-out-loud sentences. Mixing thought-text around this unusual technique creates a wonderful flow, allowing the reader to take up their own residence inside his masterfully drawn characters.
The story weaves tightly around two families- the Pickles and the Lambs (a piece of otherwise-ridiculousness for which Winton manages to draw absolute sympathy).
Spanning several decades from the mid-1930s in Western Australia, the two families- each with their own ever-present demons and idiosyncrasies- are thrown together in an unlikely, albeit legitimate setting.
This is no mystery story. Events leading up to the families’ occupation of ‘Cloudstreet’- the old haunted house of their residence- are made known with a fair amount of clarity to the reader, and the ghosts’ influence on the souls within is a central theme of the tale.
It is this collection of souls, and the novel’s exclusive concentration on its characters that make Cloudstreet such a page-turning read.
Their histories, struggles, intimacy, addictions and yearnings collide on the page; Winton’s effortless story-telling is poignantly human and surprisingly touching.
Stump-handed Sam Pickles lost a hand in an industrial accident many years before there was such a thing as compensation, while his exceptionally pretty wife Dolly is an alcoholic-in-the-making leaving the running of the household to daughter Rose.
The untimely death of a generous relative has left the haunted house in their possession, and when the idea of renting half of it to the Lamb family surfaces, a passive income is established that will support Sam’s devastating gambling habit.
Driven, Samaritan-esque Oriel Lamb- the matriarch- quickly establishes a grocery business in the downstairs part of their side of the shared house, which puts the home on the local map and earns the house the nickname ‘Cloudstreet’.
Meanwhile we watch closely the development of son Quick Lamb. Quick navigates a painful path to adulthood, carrying a burden of guilt for rescuing his beloved brother Fish from drowning during the family’s evening prawn-gathering. The consequence of oxygen-deprivation unravels to leave the lively young boy childishly handicapped.
Cloudstreet is a story about family, set in a time and place where life was tough and deceptions a-plenty. It is an intense, character-driven read about the vagaries of luck and the triumph of truth in a world where ghosts reflect the living’s anguish, and the human spirit’s capacity for forgiveness ultimately prevails.
Cloudstreet is a novel to make you forget that punctuation was ever important.
COPYRIGHT TIFFANY BROWN 2014