Wednesday, August 30, 2017

The Boy Behind The Curtain

Tim Winton's The Boy Behind the Curtain: notes from an Australian life is an outstanding book. Not so long ago he read from and talked about it at the Lexicon in Dun Laoghaire (that talk is now available on their SoundCloud site here; also listen to this chat at the Auckland Writers' Festival in 2015).

Collections of essays can seem thrown-together, but this one isn't: Australia, childhood and the natural world are approached from different angles by Winton in a series of beautifully-written pieces. 'The Boy Behind the Curtain', from which he read at the start of the Lexicon event, examines the potentially fine line between safety and catastrophe that Winton identifies as a key note of life, especially Australian life. This opens out further in 'Havoc: a Life in Accidents', based on his father's job as a motorbike cop and an horrendous accident which nearly killed him (but which in the end gave him a kind of rebirth as an evangelical Christian). Winton recreates with consummate tension their approach to an accident when his father was off-duty, and his own years later with his children in the back of the car. 
The pleasures go on through essays on hospitals, sharks, the saving from developers of Ningaloo Reef and descriptions of the vastness of Western Australia. Great reading, and English teachers will find fruitful material in the earlier essays in particular.