Cloudstreet, Tim Winton’s homage to his homeland in Perth Australia has been kicking about for a few years. Winton wrote an afterword in 2015. Sometime you find a book and sometimes a book finds you. The novel I’m rewriting has many of the features of Cloudstreet. If it ever hits the light of day…well, we’ll see.
I’m not really sure who the narrator of Cloudsteet is and being a pretend writer I’m usually pretty good at hiding that kind of thing. I guess the authorial voice belongs to Fish Lamb. He’s a beautiful boy, everybody’s favourite, and his ma Oriel’s blue eyed (although his eyes are dark) but he drowns early on. This also happens to one of my characters Angela. Like Angela, Fish is brought back to life, but he’s not right in the head afterwards (oxygen starvation) and brings back something else with him. Another sensibility.
But the book begins with the same kind of thing, but couched in a different language.
Sam Pickles was a fool to get out of bed that day…you turn in your bed and you smell your dead father beside you and you know that the shifty shadow of God is lurking. And Sam knew damwell that when the shifty shadow is about, you roll yourself a smoke and stay under the sheets and don’t move till you see what happens.
Sam Pickles, of course, doesn’t stay in bed. He gets out of bed and pays the price. The hairy hand of fate takes his hand as payment. It’s fate made manifest. His wife Dolly isn’t best pleased. She’s the kind of woman other men ogle and some men get to touch, but not too much. When Rose her daughter goes to tell her the news about Sam, Dolly is shacking up in the hotel room with some Yank, helping with the war effort.
Rose Pickle’s two brothers Ted and Chub are none the wiser. Neither of the brothers rarely are. As characters they fade into the background. This is Rose’s story. And Sam’s story. And Dolly’s story. And the story of the Lamb family too.
It’s also the story of the river, that gives life and takes life. And when the shifty shadow is lurking the Pickles family need a place to hide. They need asylum. In the way that’s what the house in Cloud Street Perth was. A rich old bitch’s folly with too many rooms and too many memories that still haunt it. When the Pickles family inherit Cloudstreet they inherit its ghosts. Fate brings them the Lambs.
The Lambs believe in hard work in the way that Sam believes in the hairy hand. Oreil the matriarch is more battalion than mother. Lester, her husband, does largely what he’s told. He’s grateful for her strength in the way most other are. Her children Hat, Elaine, Lon and Red, are like Ted and Chub in the Pickles family, distant tunes, dimly heard. Literally, that is, when the two families agree to share the same dilapidated house. The Lamb family renting rooms from the Pickles.
This is the story of Fish, the boy that drowned, and Quick who sees things other folk can’t. He sees himself running out of the wheat fields, when, for example, he’s shoot kangaroos at a waterhole. He sees a blackman that warns him he should go home. Later with Rose and Fish, Quick and them see a nation of black children blowing through the wheat fields.
After reading this book you might see things differently too. Here it is in print, long before junk bonds was the marvel of the eighties and a house was a box you kept your assets in. A house too can have soul and breathe its characters , but only if you let it, as Cloudstreet does.