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Shallows by Tim Winton

Shallows (1984)

by Tim Winton

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The large number of characters and the jumping between the past and present make the start of this novel quite challenging for the reader, but it becomes more accessible as links are made explicit as the story unfolds. Although it was written between ‘An Open Swimmer’ and ‘That Eye, the Sky’, I felt that it had more in common with ‘The Winter Dark’, the brooding sense of disappointment and failure hanging over both Daniel Coupar and Maurice Stubbs. This book also reminds me of ‘The Riders’, another where Winton has his protagonist, Fred Scully, on an unending, unrewarding pursuit. There’s little of the light-hearted humour lifting ‘That Eye, the Sky’, a novel very much of the New Testament where this one, even with its quotations, belongs more to the darkness of the OT, the persistent drought solely over Wirrup even being ascribed to God’s hand.

I think I read somewhere that Winton himself felt fairly critical of this book, having laboured too long over it. There’s certainly a lot of symbolism in the book, emanating mostly, I think, from the whales, whether biblical like Jonah’s or those off Angelus. I guess the most obvious Winton gets is when he brings in the title: ‘Being a whale in shallow water is a godawful business. Navigation is ultra-complex’. And I suppose this relates to the difficulties the characters have in working out where to take their lives. That’s fair enough but I do agree with Winton’s own appraisal in that too much is worked into the book, whether it’s all those significant dreams that get described in detail or all the biblical/Christian references. It just made it rather heavy-going. And I didn’t share Cleve’s sense of involvement with Nathaniel Coupar’s journal.

Making this a third person omniscient novel means that we get the thoughts of a lot of characters, something which contributes to its density but on the plus side it does allow some interesting contradictions to emerge such as Queenie’s love of her father for lifting the tractor off his wife when we discover from Daniel that in fact she fell down the waterfall. And we find that it’s Pustling who’s organised the boats for the anti-whaling lobby, not some real benefactor but someone with an ulterior motive. These double perspectives add to our anticipation of what may happen when the truth comes out.

Having written of Pustling, though, he does seem too much of a caricature with his continuous shedding of teeth and bad breath, not to mention Winton’s choice of name for him. In some ways, then, things are just too spelt out and less convincing for the distortions.

The difficulty people having in coming to terms with how to lead life is laid out basically in Christian terms so ‘That Eye, the Sky’ with its overt proselytising shouldn’t have come as the surprise it was. You might have thought that the environmentalists would be the ones Winton espouses but he shows, through their inter-personal behaviour how uncaring about other people they are and it seems to me that it’s only Pell, the minister, who has any equanimity despite the buffering he gets. I didn’t feel any empathy for any of the characters, though, and I wonder if Winton meant us to, especially when he ends his novel with the dying Daniel Cougar ignored by his granddaughter. ( )
  evening | Dec 31, 2014 |
As usual another win from Tim Winton for me , set in Angelus , a whaling port in WA , and how the townspeople are divided against whaling or having jobs , and how they sort out their differences in the sometimes corrupt and divided town. Great descriptions of whaling and the slaughter and processing of the whales , and descriptions of the whales in their natural environment . Loved it . ( )
  Suzannie1 | May 4, 2014 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0330319647, Paperback)

One hundred and fifty years after the establishment of land-based whaling in Australia, its last outpost is Angelus, a small town already struggling for survival. Long-dormant passions are awakened by the arrival of the conservationists, who threaten the town's livelihood and disturb the fragile peace under which its inhabitants live. "Full of strikingly described action ...an imaginative reconstruction of primitive whaling and the personal suffering involved ...Tim Winton, in this admirable novel, deals with pride, loneliness, longing for love and the struggle between nostalgic heroes and the heroism of compassion". ("The Times"). "All this is dazzling, dazzling. It makes the heart pound". ("Los Angeles Times"). "A moving and powerful elegy ...Winton writes vividly, and with courage, about serious matters in a cynical world. ("Observer"). "A major work by anyone's standards ...mysterious, painful and beautiful". ("Washington Post").

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:10:19 -0400)

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Whales have always been the life-force of Angelus, a small town on the south coast of Western Australia. Their annual passinig defines the rythms of a life where little changes, and the town depends on their carcasses. So when the battle begins on the beaches outside the town, and when Queenie Cookson, a local girl, joins the Greenies to make amends for the crimes of her whaling ancestors, it can only throw everything into chaos.… (more)

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Penguin Australia

An edition of this book was published by Penguin Australia.

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