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That Eye, the Sky by Tim Winton

That Eye, the Sky

by Tim Winton

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248746,284 (3.36)11
  1. 00
    Empire of the Sun by J.G. Ballard (lucyknows)
    lucyknows: Empire of the Sun can be paired with That Eye, the Sky by Tim Winton or Harper Lee's To kill a Mockingbird. In all three books the authors speak through the childhoods of their main characters.

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I have no words to tell you how awful this book is. Had to read it in high school. Put me off Tim Winton for life. I just wanted to slap every character really hard and then shred the book. It has been 15 years since high school and I still hate it this much. ( )
  SashaM | Apr 20, 2016 |
There is a fine line when writing from the point of view of a young person; between complete ignorance of yourself and the people around you and an adult too knowing omniscience beyond your years. In writing from Ort's POV Tim Winton carefully conveys his confusion and naivety while giving the reader clues about what is actually going on.

Ort lives in the outskirts of town with his parents, older sister Tegwyn and Grammar. Ort's father is injured in a car accident. The family struggle to cope with caring for him once he comes home, wheelchair bound.

Out of the blue Henry Winterbottom arrives and offers to help.

"I go through to the front door that we never used until lately, and I open it with a pull and there at the door is a big man with old clothes that you could buy at a school fete for fifty cents, a real long face with a big hoe chin, funny eyes, a book in his hands, and grass seeds all over him.

'Hello, Morton, is your mother there?'

I don't say a flamin' word. I know him. Me mouth must be way open but I can't help it. It's the joker from under the bridge.
In the end, Mum comes up behind me and says, 'Can I help you?'

'I'm not selling anything,' he says, then looks like he'd like to change that but can't, so he shuts his mouth.

He's big, tall. Wide hands. He could do with a wash.


'I've come to help with Sam.'

Mum grabs my shoulder hard like she's trying to pop a boil out of it. 'Are you from the hospital, then?' Oh, look at him, Mum, does he look like he's from the flamin' hospital?

'No. I'm not from anywhere in particular. Nngth.'

I look up. What was that? He said this funny word at the end then.

'No, I'm here to help you bathe Sam. It must be time now.'

'I didn't ask anyone to come.' Mum says.

'No,' I say. 'we didn't ask anyone to come'.

'I understand that. Nngth.'

There he goes again.

'Are you from Social Security?'

He shakes his head, smiling.


Mum looks at me. She wants to let him in, I can tell. She's mad. He's a stranger. He's dirty. We don't know who he is. We didn't ask him to come.

'We didn't know about any of this. Who's paying you?'

'I'm a voluntary worker.'

'For nothing?'
'Yes. More or less.'

She looks like she's decided to close the door on him, like she's suspicious after all, but then she just looks kind of scared and lost and she gives me a dry smile that says "I'm sorry'.
'Well, you might as well come in, now you are here,' she says with a sigh.”

From this introduction to Henry we see from Ort’s POV the visual, the physical. From listening to his mother we see her need for help overcome any reluctance to accept this odd offer.
We can also see the taut, spare style Winton uses. Young boys are not often given to use expansive descriptive prose. Ort’s sentences are very short, punchy and pared back.

When Henry takes Ort and Tegwyn to the beach for their first time, Winton captures the essence of the day in Ort’s emotional spare, descriptions.

“The beach is the whitest flaming thing you’ve ever seen in your life! Black car parks, green water, and white sand that goes for miles. You squint as you walk across it, through oily brown people on blankets and under brollies with radios going and babies crying. Some girls with their boobs showing, brown things with eyes that watch you go past. Geez…

…Blokes on surfboards turning round and going like hell. Takes me a while to see the big lines coming in like a convoy of wheat trucks, some with bits of white blowing off the top like wheat dust coming off the load.

…Everyone else catches the waves when they come. They swim with them and shoot along to the beach. But I stay put. I get run over by surfboards. I get run over by fat ladies with prickly legs. I get run over by my own sister. And then I reckon I’ve had enough. I think all the knocks have ruined my brains, ‘cause I turn around and catch the next wave that comes up behind me like a brick wall. Then I’m flying. Really flying. Most of me isn’t even in the wave. I’m hanging pout over the sandbar that’s a long, long way down and I hear me own voice going: ‘Oooooohhh!’ Like jumping out of a tree. On to your head. Hohh! I come up with more sand down my throat and music in my head and another wave tumbles me over. Another one fills me up with water and sends me along the bottom. The last one drops me on the beach. I get up and then I know. Me shorts! Here I am standing in the middle of the city with nothing on.”

Winton could have run many of these sentences together without losing the meaning, however this is how Ort thinks and by chopping those down the pattern of his thoughts fit the situation. The repetition of ‘I get run over by…” mirrors the repetition of the waves and the constant buffeting he endures.

This is a bittersweet novel about a young boy, his family, and how they attempt to cope with growing up, growing wiser, all under the blue eye in the sky. ( )
  Robert3167 | Mar 22, 2016 |
I'm writing this review as an adult reader - and unlike a lot of YA fiction, couldn't really connect with it as an older reader. I wasn't able to 'get into' the story or the characters and I found a lot of the writing was just really jarring. ( )
  tandah | Nov 14, 2010 |
That Eye, That Sky is his most bewildering novel so far (at least to me). I finished it with a huge sense of what? I made the mistake of going online to see if there was a reading guide or cheat sheet that explains "this is what he meant". I ended up just finding a bunch of reader's suggestions that it all had to do with conversion to Christianity by way of one of the character's (Henry) sudden appearance.

It starts with the ominous warning of a mother telling her son to always wave goodbye when someone leaves, as you may never see them again. You know that can't bode well.

The novel itself is told in the voice of a ten year old boy, whose father is rendered incapacitated by a car wreck (and no, the kid didn't wave goodbye). His teen sister, his long suffering mom and his Alzheimer inflicted grandmother fill out the family tree. They are barely managing, out in the woods, practically camping, when the accident occurs and changes their lives. Henry shows up to 'help' and has long philosophical discussions with the mom and sister, while helping them care for the father. This leads the mother and son into seeking purpose and God's aid.

Do I think Henry helped them? Actually, I have to disagree with all the other online opinions. I think Henry hampered them in everything. I think he represented evil. They weren't considered bad caregivers until Henry was 'helping' them. He ends up seducing their teenage daughter and contributed to her wild behavior. I think the fact that the mother tolerated him for his help is what alienated the daughter in the first place and made her more susceptible to his advances. And the suggestion is made that he prevents the father from actually recovering. I think the mother and son would have had their quest for spiritual guidance regardless of Henry's visit; people in tough times often reevaluate their needs.

I loved his voice as Morton: he sounds just like a kid with kid thoughts and explanations. He must have been a young boy once! I was also interested in how he felt watched by the sky all the time, I think essentially he was describing his conscience. He knew right and wrong, and he had a good heart.

It left me with many questions: why is no other family mentioned? Why is the daughter so angry all the time? Who is the person the grandmother keeps calling out for? How are they getting by financially? Is it possible that the daughter and Henry had a prior acquaintance with each other, and his visit was subterfuge for being there with her?

I don't mind the questions, I like pondering this kind of stuff. I do think Winton took the easy way out by portraying any "church people" as cliche'd personalities: hateful and judgmental (the Lutherans) or theatrical and creepy (the Catholics). That surprised me a bit, usually he delves a little deeper than what you would expect from a skit on Saturday Night Live. ( )
1 vote BlackSheepDances | Dec 24, 2009 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0743234421, Paperback)

In this modern Australian classic, award-winning author Tim Winton tells the story of young Ort Flack and his struggle to come to grips with the forces pulling his family apart. An extraordinary snapshot of boyhood, That Eye, the Sky is also a powerful exploration of the nature of hope and faith. Ort doesn't have a bad life. He mucks around with his best pal, Fat Cherry; he wonders what his sister Tegwyn's so mad about and why his grandma's disappeared inside herself; he looks up at the sky and thinks it's like a big blue eye looking right back at him. But when Dad isn't back from work when he's supposed to be and a strange car pulls into the drive, Ort's life is thrown into turmoil. Suddenly, Mum doesn't seem as strong as she used to, Fat starts saying bad things, and the stranger knocking on the door seems to know an awful lot about the Flacks.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:25:41 -0400)

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Ort knows the sky is watching. He knows what it means to watch; he spends long hours listening at doors and peering through cracks. Things are terribly wrong. His father is withering away, his sister is consumed by hatred, his grandmother is all inside herself, and his mother, a flower-child of the 1960s, is brave but helpless. Then a strange man appears at their door. That Eye, the Sky is a luminous novel about a boy's vision of the world beyond, about finding a way through cataclysm. Everything begins at the moment the ute driven by Ort Flack's father ploughs into a roadside tree, throwing the whole world out of kilter.… (more)

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Penguin Australia

An edition of this book was published by Penguin Australia.

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