‘Cloudstreet’ by Tim Winton starts off in the 1940s in Western Australia. We are introduced to the Pickles family and the Lamb family. The Pickles include Sam Pickles, the father, his wife, Dolly Pickles and kids Ted, Rose and Chub. The Lamb family are initially a god-fearing family with Lester Lamb at the helm along with his wife Oriel. Their children include their sons Quick, Fish and Lon and their daughters Hat, Elaine and Red.
Sam Pickles is bad luck. Literally. He lost half his arm in a work accident. He woke up next to his dead father. He bets on horses. And never wins, thus gambling away money he doesn’t even have. His wife Dolly is very beautiful. Trouble is, she knows it. And spends her time in pubs drinking and sleeping with sailors and other men. By a stroke of luck for Sam in a very unfortunate manner (if that’s possible), his brother drops dead too and leaves Sam and family a house in Perth where they decide to start afresh. The house is number 1, Cloud Street. A massive house. That seems like it could fall apart. One of the conditions on which Sam has received the house though is that they cannot sell it for another twenty years. But given Sam’s gambling habits, it’s hard to maintain a house as big as this.
Enter, the Lamb family. Looking to get away and start afresh after an accident renders Fish, the favourite child, mentally disabled, they move into half of Cloud Street as tenants. They couldn’t be more unlike the Pickles. Hard working. Persistent. Oriel sets up a grocery store outside the house, thus raking in the money. And Sam and Dolly continue to squander the rental income on gambling and booze.
Cloudstreet covers both families lives over twenty years or more. We follow Quick and how he struggles with his guilt. We see Fish and how incapable and child-like he is and continues to be. We see Lon who starts off as a toddler and who he turns out to be. We see tomboyish Red and her journey through life. We follow Rose through her struggles with an eating disorder and having to be the parent when both her parents are pretty useless. All this set in the time of war in the backdrop to begin with. And whether the families are able to forgive themselves and the other members for all that has occurred.
Cloudstreet is one of Winton’s most famous books. And it did live up to its name for me. However, I must say, this is the first Winton book I’ve read and initially it was a bit hard to get around his writing style. He’s very Australian in that he writes some words the way it ought to be pronounced. For instance, ‘carn’ for ‘come on’ or ‘yairs’ for ‘yes’. Another unique feature of his style was the complete lack of inverted commas for dialogue. I found it frustrating initially as I would wonder whether it was someone thinking or actually speaking. But once you get through the first couple of chapters, you are able to understand his style better and then it flows really quickly. At the end of the day, these two families and their members could remind you of people you know. The characters are very realistic and you do feel for some of them and get angry with others at the right moments. All in all, it was a good book even though I took a break once as I had to read another book for my book club. The book has now been made into a mini TV series.
My rating would be a 4.
Until next time,