Other People's Favourite Books – Troy Martin on Tim Winton's Cloudstreet

Tell us a little about yourself and what you do.

Hi, I’m Troy, a high school English teacher, frustrated writer, all round book nerd. Being an ‘English’ teacher means more than grammar or literacy, but literature, blogs, picture books, websites, cultural studies and much more… I have been teaching in the NSW public education system for six years, and I have loved every minute of it. I’ve taught in rural NSW, but I am currently teaching, reading, writing a lot (http://donatingamemory.wordpress.com/) and living on the central coast of NSW with my pregnant wife and our two pet dogs.

What is one of your favourite books?

Cloudstreet by Tim Winton (Aus, US).

How do you describe this book when you recommend it to other people?

By trying to avoid clichés! I love nothing more than recommending a book to someone, but Cloudstreet requires a little application. It is an epic novel, but so rewarding in its scope and poetic representation. This novel is more about character – the house, the land, the river, the people – than plot.

How old were you and what was going on in your life when you first read it?

It was just ten years ago when I first read Cloudstreet. I was 18 and wanted to change the world! I had started reading Tim Winton in high school (Lockie Leonard, An Open Swimmer), but I was at university studying when I first got my hands on Cloudstreet.

How many times have you read it?

At least once a year, for ten years, plus I studied it with a HSC class of mine, that year I must have read it four or five times.

Who wouldn’t you recommend it to?

My wife, as I know her taste in books too well. It is not Winton’s most accessible novel, but from the novel, it is essential to see that from pain and suffering hope and peace can rise.

Do you have a crush on one of the characters, or the author? Or do you want to be one of them?

All of the above! The simple minded, but unassuming and serene Quick Lamb, or maybe his opposite, the avid, poignant Rose. I think the house counts as a character, I would love to live with the house on Cloud Street, it draws Quick and Rose together, bringing the house and the two families back from the desert of emotion they had fallen into. I devour Winton novels. I want to write like him, I wish I could write like him.

Have you read other books by the author? If yes, what did you think of them? If no, why not?

I have read all of his novels. I read Lockie Leonard at school when a teacher who cared handed it to me and said: you might like this. The next week she handed me An Open Swimmer. Each new reading leads me to something new about each of his novels. I might be reading Lockie Leonard to a boys’ group and suddenly a word or sentence or an image will come to me that I hadn’t noticed before. His latest, Breath is tragic, but awe-inspiring in its reach and style. I feel as if Winton is our writer, my generation’s storyteller. 

What do you love most about it?

Cloudstreet isn’t easy to read. It takes on a life of its own. It is a post-modern take on an ancient land. I can’t narrow what draws me to the novel each year: the snapshots of history, of Australia undergoing a transformation, the rugged characters. This novel shows Australians how we are, or how we once were, rather than how we want to be seen.  

Think about the feeling it gave, or gives you. What could you most closely relate that to?

Once, I found the novel filled with humour. Yet, overall, the feelings range, and with each new reading it has given me such wide and varied emotional responses. Sometimes, particularly as I get older, there is an overwhelming sense of dislocation, of one part of our country feeling as if they don’t belong. Yet, when I first read it, the pain and suffering (the novel opens with a horrific succession of episodes) was central. The house, at number one Cloud Street, is our country, we are the two families thrown together, from separate tragedies, and now I see the hope and peace that can come from the pain and suffering.

Can you share with us a favourite moment, passage, or line in the book?

Am I allowed to say all of it? I dog ear books, I write in margins, I underline, I circle, I draw little exclamation marks, to mark a section I must come back to, a line or a moment or a passage that I must read aloud to someone. There are so many of these markings in Cloudstreet. But…

‘…I’m Fish Lamb for those seconds it takes to die, as long as it takes to drink the river, as long as it took to tell you all this, and then my walls are tipping and I burst into the moon, sun and stars of who I really am. Being Fish Lamb. Perfectly. Always. Everyplace. Me.’

Do any other books come close? Name a couple if so.

I have a short list: The History of Love – Nicole Krauss, The Book Thief – Marcus Zusak, The Trout Opera – Matthew Condon, and Gould’s Book of Fish – Richard Flanagan.

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