My thanks, once again, to this group for bringing me to a book and author I have otherwise peculiarly avoided. I don’t know why but I have never read any Winton, nor seen the stage play or related TV series ‘Cloudstreet’. Perhaps fate had a hand in that I not long ago had my first visit to WA, Perth, Fremantle etc. Certainly, I think first hand contact with much of the background setting enriched my reading.
The tone and language of this work is quite remarkable. Winton writes with great insight of the time of my own childhood and his ability to express characters and language typical of that time without falling into cliché is quite remarkable. At the same time, the poeticism of his descriptions of people, mood, emotions and the quasi-spiritual is elegant yet easy to read. This raises one of my few quibbles. I am not a strong lover of spiritual flights of fancy and would ordinarily be turned off. However, I found even this aspect to be somewhat interesting, appropriate (especially when related to matters aboriginal) and as mood-enhancing as it was doubtless intended to be as in the case of the boat on the Swan river by night. There are, nevertheless, passages that can charitably be described as obscure.
It is a convoluted yarn of the long-term interaction of two different families sparked by chance (‘the Shifty Shadow’) in a number of manifestations and culminating in a union of kinds. Along the way is scattered a wonderful stable of characters from whom the reader can pick and chose as to original and continuing interest. My undoubted favourite was the flinty Mrs Lamb around whom so much depends. She is a rock but not unadorned with so much of the daily life of the house sketched out in wonderful feeling colour.
It is a long read with occasional longeurs leaving the reader appreciating the jewel-like passages of descriptive action, the wonderfully accurate passages of conversation and even some of the spiritual flights. Uneven, but then life is like that.