In his latest and 11th novel, Perth-based author Tim Winton (who has twice been shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize for Fiction) paints a less-forgiving portrait of the Western Australian city, where the wealth of the mining boom has overshadowed issues concerning the underprivileged. Protagonist Tom Keeley is living in exile after a very public meltdown. But he soon discovers there is further to fall. Here, Winton tells us more.
We read Eyrie and loved it. It felt like going to Perth for a holiday.
A holiday in hell!
Yeah, it’s not a terribly flattering portrait. We’ve heard you say, when you’re writing, the place always comes first. Was that the case here?
Yeah, it doesn’t matter if it’s a natural landscape or a cityscape. I don’t know why. That’s just how it works for me. The setting creates the story. It was a long time before I read any Goethe and his phenomenological idea about having to look and look and look at the same thing until eventually it reveals something of itself to you. There’s wisdom and genius in that.
Is that why you keep revisiting WA as a setting? You’re still looking at it until it reveals something?
I don’t know. I’ve lived in Fremantle for 15 or 20 years, I suppose. I’ve got a lot invested in the community. Kids, grandkids, a footy team. In terms of the writing of this book, when I was working on [previous novel] Breath, the house was too busy, so I got a workspace in a sort of high rise. There I was…
Peering down at the city.
Yeah. When you’re a flatlander like me, a vertical environment does certain things to your head. You look down with this sort of objectifying gaze. People become creaturely from a distance. And the noise rises up. You hear these really intimate conversations, although you can’t see who’s speaking.
After Breath, I realised I had all this stuff of a place and I got thinking about the way we live in this suburban, middle-class culture. We’re separated from each other by our prosperity. Every man’s in his castle in his car on his way to work. As a working-class child who’s become bourgeois, it was confronting to me how insulated you can become.
What about the class conflict the book raises?
Class is the thing we’re not allowed to talk about. We’re not allowed to talk about class because that might mean that people who are unsuccessful are unsuccessful possibly for reasons that are beyond their control.
There is a real sense of anger in Eyrie, focussed through Keeley.
I had to inoculate myself against that, because I was having to marinate in Keeley’s anger for so long. You could do your head in. There wasn’t any point in using the book to vent. I’m not Keeley. But I was watching friends in NGOs, watching people work in social housing, people helping the working poor, watching them in this doomed mission to get political and media attention on that stuff and watching them crash and burn. Here was a frustration and an opportunity to be in someone else’s shoes, someone not just on the cusp of despair, but with two feet over the edge.
When we meet him, Keeley is in free fall.
He’s absolved himself from all responsibility. He is ranting — that’s all the things you say when you’ve given up.
From Dhs76, available at www.amazon.com.