The Shepherd’s Hut by Tim Winton, Australia, 2018

The Shepherd’s Hut by Tim Winton, Australia, 2018

This would have to be one of the best books I read in 2018; the writing is magnificent. Set in Western Australia, the descriptions of the bush are so realistic that you can hear the birds, smell the vegetation and feel the insects. The characterization is beautiful – both main characters in the novel are real people who act and feel in the way real people act and feel.

The story is told by Jaxie Clackton, who is about sixteen years of age with a difficult, abusive past topped off by a traumatic incident that sets the story in motion. He is a survivor with a minimum of education, and his English is held together by questionable grammar and a lot of slang expressions; however it is this that is one of the things that make the novel so special.

Jaxie has not much more than a dream and a goal, two things that make him leave his home town, Monkton, and head north by foot across harsh, inhospitable country towards Magnet where his cousin – the only person who really understands him – lives. As the story slowly unwinds these are the two things that hold it all together. En route he meets up with Fintan MacGillis, an old priest with a mysterious past, now living in an abandoned shepherd’s hut. Jaxie, abused, suspicious and unloved and Fintan, an exile (from what we do not know), form a strange friendship.

This is a journey on both an external and an internal plane that meet at the end of book when Jaxie says, ‘He felt me. He always knew what I was. He saw me coming before I was even there. And now I saw him too.’ Fintan finally finds peace in isolation, a peace that Jaxie accepts and understands and which doubtlessly changes him for ever.

Do not miss this book; it will seep into you and fill you with wonder.

(The photo of Tim Winton is from The Irish Times)

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