The Shepherd’s Hut by Tim Winton

It’s been too long since I lost myself in a Tim Winton book.  If you are Australian, chances are you’ve read a few of them. It turns out lots of people overseas read Tim Winton too, although how on earth they can make sense of the heavy Australian slang and vocabulary is a mystery to me.

Set in remote Western Australia, The Shepherd’s Hut is the story of a teenage boy called Jaxie Clackton. After his mother dies of cancer, he is left to live with an abusive alcoholic father he calls “Captain Wankbag” – Wankbag for short.  Jaxie is isolated, angry and also abusive. One day he comes home to find his father’s dead body splayed out in his shed.  Fearing he will be blamed for the murder, he runs flat strap to the bush.

The bulk of this book tells the story of this single character on the run.

All fired up and without much more than a pair of binoculars, Jaxie heads into some of Australia’s harshest country. After a few weeks with nothing but flies, dried blood, sticky dirt and sore feet, he comes across a retired priest who has been living alone in a small hut. This awkward encounter sets up an even more awkward relationship but a chance for Jaxie to open up at last.

The Shepherd’s Hut is a tough read, with no niceties. It is a gritty, up close and sometimes smelly insight into the male psyche, with challenging themes and scenes. Some questions go unanswered and there is a hint of theology in there I wasn’t completely comfortable with, but there is a message to the story and it all serves a purpose.

For me, the beauty in this book (and all Tim Winton’s books) is the language.  There is a harmony and humour to his voice that is instantly recognisable and uniquely Australian. It is flawed, unpretentious and very much connected to the land. That voice hit me harder in The Shepherd’s Hut than it has with any other of Tim Winton’s novels and I am already planning to read it again one day when I am far away and thinking of home.

And that is my 2 cents worth.