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The Shepherd's Hut by Tim Winton - Review

Tuesday, June 23, 2020

This book was the June choice for my book club, and I read it back at the beginning of June. It was chosen by Margaret, an older lady in our book club who used to be a teacher. She is very widely read and she always chooses really good books. You wouldn't think she and I would have very similar taste in books, so I'm always quite surprised when I end up loving her choices. Last year she chose Fire in the Blood which I liked, and a few years ago she chose Mothering Sunday by Graham Swift which I really liked.

So this book is a coming of age novel about a teenager called Jaxie Clackton. He lives in Western Australia and at the beginning of the book he is on a highway in a stolen car. The book looks back in time to show the reader how he got there.

He left home to begin with because he found his abusive dad dead. Jaxie is around fifteen or sixteen - later in the book he tells Fintant he is seventeen, but isn't believed. His mother has already died of cancer, leaving Jaxie just with his dad. He is physically abusive towards Jaxie. Jaxie comes home and finds his dad dead under his car, thanks to a faulty car jack. Everyone knows what kind of man Clackton Sr was, and Jaxie is convinced that the finger will point at him, that everyone will assume he murdered his dad. So he packs a bag and takes off out of their small town, intending to head north (I think) to Magnet, where his sort of girlfriend Lee lives. He avoids the highway, and towns, so that police can't find him. He ends up in basically the outback.

In the first part of the novel he's alone, and he finds an old prospector's shack that he stays in for a while. He hunts kangaroo, and one day, further away from the shack than usual, he happens upon a shepherd's hut. He watches it for a while, then finally meets the inhabitant, Fintan MacGillis. The two end up keeping each other somewhat uneasy company. Fintant is an ex priest and has been abandoned in the middle of nowhere to basically get him out of the way and as penance for sins he never confesses to. This is the second part of the novel.

I won't spoil the third part, but the reader learns a lot more about Jaxie's background, family, and about Lee. She's his first cousin, so while the two of them have been together, they've been stopped from seeing each other by Lee's mother. He doesn't know what kind of reception he'll get in Magnet.

The novel is written in a stream of consciousness way, without direct speech. It's full of bad language, which gives the reader such a good impression of the type of person Jaxie is. You feel for him entirely, I really wanted him to succeed and get free and start a better life. I loved the setting of the Australian wilderness, with prospector's shacks and mining holes and all the wildlife and following tracks in the earth. I don't know too much about Western Australia so I kept looking things up.

While this is not specfically a novel for teenagers, it is a novel about a teenager, and I think it would appeal to teens if they don't mind the bad language. There's a lot of violence, lots of graphic parts, lots of mentions of death, and so on, but that shouldn't detract from what is a brilliant novel, especially for a mature reader. I'm giving this five out of five.

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