The Shepherd’s Hut

I think what most preoccupied Tim Winton in working on this  novel was getting the voice of the narrator, Jaxie, right. As it’s almost all we hear for the duration, it’s just as well he succeeded. It’s not understood to be written by him, of course—he’s probably barely literate—but it is narrated by him, and the language on the page represents what he ‘would of’ written if he ‘could of’—thus giving examples of the principal solecism which occurs consistently throughout—together with ‘et’ for ‘ate’, which is complicated, but works.

The other main character, Fintan, only appears halfway through, and is represented only by what he says to Jaxie—who does not understand half of it, but records it accurately (of course). Jaxie is the character who is in search of … ‘peace’ is the preferred term, and Fintan is the spiritually advanced character who has perhaps found it.

Then there’s a plot, which is a bit stuck-on-at-the-end, providing closure for the story in a way that is convincing enough. One is usually glad to escape from the world of a Winton novel—he’s often said not to do his endings well—and this one provides a neat half-page summary (almost like a PowerPoint slide) which tidies everything up, and lets us go.

But this novel does not let us go when we have put it down. Its evocation of Jaxie’s universe is so precise and convincing that it will stay in the reader’s mind for some time – well, this one, at least.