Australian Winton’s seventh novel, seven years in the making, is an exhilarating multilayered amalgam of withering satire and beguiling character creation—a more than worthy successor to his critically acclaimed Cloudstreet (1992) and The Riders (1995).
The setting is fictional White Point, a fishing village on the western coast of Australia where a recent lobster boom has created a number of raffish, hard-drinking nouveaux riches. One of the more respectable of them is widower Jim Buckridge, who lives in something very like splendor with his two teenaged sons and his 40-year-old mistress Georgie Jutland, a former nurse, and a fugitive of sorts, from her own wealthy (and troubled) family. Winton has a fine time skewering the “White Pointers’” pretensions, while patiently revealing the present and past influences that shape stoical Jim and restless Georgie—whose relationship is thrown into more confusing relief when Georgie plays Catherine to the Heathcliff of itinerant fish-poacher and failed band musician Luther Fox, who completes the trifecta of major characters. All three have suffered traumatic loss or violence, or both (in Luther’s case, it’s a comic-horrible history of family maimings and deaths that’s positively Dickensian). All three make heroic and farcical efforts to shed the shackles of the past and reinvent themselves. Winton presents this uniquely textured fable of growth and change as a boisterous comedy, whose principals are surrounded by a garrulous Australian chorus of vivid supporting characters (“Beaver,” the shady video-store owner with a newly purchased Vietnamese wife, may be the best of a marvelously scurvy lot). All this against a rich backdrop whose landscape and climate are evoked with muscular imagistic precision (as a cyclone approaches, “Lightning bleaches the trees and a waterspout rises like an angry white root from the dirt-coloured sea”).
A terrific novel. Winton’s best yet.