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Tim Winton: Cloudstreet

This is a wonderful novel about two families who are thrown together and whose lives continue to intersect over a long period. On the one hand is Sam Pickles, endearing but useless. He inherits some money and a house. He and his family move into the house but Sam loses the money on the horses, as he will lose much money over the years. He also loses most of his hand in a stupid accident and ends up in menial job in the Mint. He is married to Dolly, a damn goodlooking woman, who was abused by her sisters as a child and who is so tired of her husband’s fecklessness that she moves out of the house into a tent. Their two sons soon move away but their daughter, Rose, is key to the novel, as she struggles with her life.

The other family is a religious family, or at least they are initially. They become the tenants of the Pickles when Sam loses all their money on the horses. Lester and Oriel Lamb’s faith is shattered when their son, Fish, is almost drowned. He does recover but not properly and remains detached from the world, yearning only for water. Their other son is Quick who feels guilt for his brother and whose main skill is hunting. He at first takes up a career as a kangaroo hunter and then becomes a policeman, hunting a vicious serial killer. In the meantime, to everyone’s surprise, he marries Rose (who was all set to marry someone else.)

But the plot is of little importance. For Winton tells a wonderful story of these two families and how they change over a period of time. In particular, he gets under the skin of the main characters and we learn what makes them tick, learn what makes them different and, finally, learns what brings them together. Each character has his/her weakness and his/her strength and each character has that special something that makes them different and, finally, brings them all together and this is what Winton does so well in bringing out. Fish to water, Quick and Rose reconciled, Sam and Dolly reconciled, the Pickles and the Lamb in harmony. It all works out in the end but you will have a joyous time getting there.

Publishing history

First published 1991 by McPhee Gribble