Sunday, 10 December 2017

Book Review: Tin Man

Another incredibly moving and beautifully written book by Sarah Winman. Having read her other two novels I had high expectations for this one, but I wasn't disappointed in the slightest. Her novels always have eye catching, intricately designed cover artwork and this one is no exception. The image of a lone man cycling into the distance toward a line drawing of a town is haunting and only foreshadows the content of what the pages inside entail. To begin with, we meet Mr and Mrs Judd, who in front of lots of friends and acquaintances, embarrasses her husband when she ignores his wish for whisky and instead picks a painting for a raffle prize. Heavily pregnant, that is the beginning of her standing up for what she loves; life and the arts. The novel expands softly, describing a man who is well and truly stuck in a rut; after his wife died he has lost who is he, where he is and what he is. Grief has completely and utterly overtaken him to the point that even day to day living has become a painful act of wake, sleep, work.

Ellis is the kind of man that everyone knows; as in, you all know somebody who resembles him. Constantly living but not to the full; forever pleasant, but always holding something back. He’s an unhappy man, having lived through too much sadness to the point that it is painful to dwell on the past but is unable to leave the past behind. Losing his mother affected him in many ways, but his lifelong love of the arts definitely suffered; he stopped sketching, stopped appreciating art. His mother loved art, often taught him about outside of the box and often, Ellis wondered where his mothers painting had gone after her death. There on the wall one day, off the wall the next and a new step mother instead. Michael was his long term best friend, the way that Ellis tells the reader about his memories of him, he sounds like the life and soul of any day, let alone a party. Flamboyant, confident and constantly by his side, Michael was as fond of Mrs Judd (Dora) as Ellis was. Both boys have their own story, their own struggles. I loved how they both helped out in Mabel’s shop, and that she treated both of them as grandchildren in the same way that Dora considered Michael a second son.

Michael has a sad life, there’s a reason why he’s being raised by his grandmother, although that isn’t fully touched on until the latter half of the novel. The development of the relationship between Michael and Ellis was amazing, it was easy to sense the chemistry between them, as well as understand that teenagers often experiment along the path of finding themselves. Annie, Ellis’ eventual wife was an excellent addition to the trio, it made the image of three being a crowd an absolute reality; there was a sense that she knew of their original relationship, although it was clear that her part in the trio definitely changed up the dynamic between Ellis and Michael. It is hard as the novel continues to realise that more or less every important person in Ellis’ life has passed away, other than his father (with whom his relationship has always been strained) and his step mother, Carol. Structurally, the novl begins with Ellis as the narrative voice, then around half way switches to Michael as the narrative voice, before ending with Ellis as the narrator. It sounds confusing, but it was clearly laid out and a great way to decipher the gaps in the memories of both boys as they turned into men.

In all honesty, I knew before I started this novel that I would love it. Sarah Winman is easily on a list of my all time favourite authors as every one of her books is something special; they always have a beautifully simplistic yet creative way with prose. For example, in this novel it was lovely to read the conversations between characters as there is no punctuation, encouraging the text to flow. Tin Man is a story of loss and love, the writing is so sensual and considered that each moment feels like your own imagination is running wild. In places it is fairly fragmented as it works the past and present of Ellis and/or Michael’s memories in together, however I loved reading the same memories from each mans perspective, how they lived their lives based on a series of decisions made by one of them. Ultimately there are a lot of subjects that are laid bare across the pages of this novel, I don’t think I’ll ever read a novel like it again. It’s a slow start, but as you delve in further you become engrossed. It’s a definite recommend from me, it is simply beautiful, I don’t know how else to describe it.

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