Australia: The Universal Quest for One’s Place in the World

The great Australian classic, Tim Winton’s Cloudstreet, takes us back to the 1940s to 1960s  to a house on Cloudstreet, where two poor families, the Lams and the Pickles, lived. The books reminds me of many Irish family sagas I have read. The families are poor, there are alcoholics, religious people, someone bets on horses, one is a little daft, and they even sing Molly Malone. Change the weather for the worse, and the Australian English to Irish English, and there you have it.

At first I just did not get into the book. It did not hook me. I’ve been told by quite a few people that this is the ultimate Australian book, and since it has won this and that, I kept on reading. I grew to like it once the story evolved, but in the end I still didn’t feel that special something I so often feel for one or more of the main characters. I did not really find too many likeable characters at all, which probably makes me like this book less than most people, who seem to be ecstatic about the book itself, as well as the characters. I can’t really explain why I did not hit the high notes with this book. I have read many family sagas, Australian as well as others, and quite frankly, I enjoyed for instance Colleen McCullough’s books more than Cloudstreet.

Don’t get me wrong, it is worth a read, but it does not get a massive praise from me. It s however nice to read a story set in Western Australia, since I now realize I have only read a handful of books set in that region. The further I got into the book the more I liked it. If there would be a sequel, maybe it would be my thing.

I liked it when Dolly Pickles, the alcoholic wife and mother, tells her daughter her secret. This is something I wish Winton would have expanded a bit more. It is such an important part of understanding the story, and Dolly’s tragic life. I have recently tried to get a fresh perspective on miserable people, because something must lie beneath these self destructive people, filled with so much hatred and pessimism. Dolly’s daughter Rose gets her fair share of ‘miserable mommy’, and that has naturally had a strong impact on Rose’s life. Rose might be the character I understand best.

One thing I found interesting in Cloudstreet is how people just let things be, whatever happens happens. It felt like most of the characters were settled with their lives, and whatever will be will be. Not that we all have to strive for better lives, not that we have to become better persons, but usually people have a bit of ambition, unless a certain point of desperation has been reached.  Luckily some characters still had some faith. “He believed deeply in luck, the old man, though he was careful never to say the word. He called it the shifty shadow of God.”

Winton seems to have a love towards water running free in the wild. So do I. Picnics by a river, or a lake, or a sea… Yes, definitely worth writing about! Some say this book is better understood when rereading it. Maybe I will do that one day.

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