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The Boy Behind the Curtain by Tim Winton

Reviewed by Gillian, Berkelouw Books Mona Vale


Helen Garner's recent collection of writing is called Everywhere I Look, and in Garner's work it seems to me, it is what she chooses to notice, the things she looks at, that create a  particular view of the world, delivered to the reader through her transcendent writing.  I think  Tim Winton's collection of biographical essays is also fuelled by what he chooses to see - his brand of looking and paying attention.

The first look in this book is through the sights of a gun.  Winton, the new boy in town, at home alone stands at the window, behind the curtain, following the passage of pedestrians through the sight of his father's Lithgow .22.  He writes that it was a way of concentrating, narrowing focus and staying calm. It would be easy to suggest that this is a useful way to think of Winton as a novelist - semi-concealed, observing, focussed.

This collection covers many aspects of Winton's life that emerge in one guise or another in his fiction. The constant threat  of "havoc" present in the life of his Dad, the copper; the influence of a unusually intense brand of Christianity practised by his family; his strong connection to the natural world, terrestrial and marine - and a commitment to conservation.

Winton gives us the slapstick comedy of a family journey in the dilapidated car Betsy; the intensity of life experienced as a neighbour to the emergency department of the Fremantle Hospital and the strange experience of being taken as an eight year old to see Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey as a friend's birthday party treat.

I was most struck by the essay "Lighting Out" which sees Winton eviscerating a novel  he thought he had finished. The loathing, the discomfort, the misery of feeling the book is just wrong, is all conveyed so tangibly. It is a sweaty disgust ameliorated only by taking a fresh piece of paper and starting all over again.

The Boy Behind the Curtain provides the all the pleasure  of reading Winton's writing along with cautious and poignant revelation of the influences and struggles of a professional artist, a very private person and a sublime writer.

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