I loved Sarah Winman’s first book When God Was a Rabbit. I thought it was beautiful. I love her use of language and (dare I say it) whimsy.
Tin Man was similar in style, though I feel the story wasn’t as strong. A little confusing, even.
The story begins with Ellis’ mother Dora, unhappy in her marriage, winning a print of Van Gogh’s Sunflowers in a raffle. She’s smitten with it.
Then, we join Ellis as a middle-aged widower, quitting his unsatisfying panel beating job when he’s injured in an accident. Leaving the profession his father forced him into. Ellis relives his childhood, the death of his mother (too young) and his relationship with his friend Michael, who also loved Dora. Ellis is depressed, six years after the passing of his wife Annie.
THEN, Ellis finds a journal of Michael’s, and so we experience Michael’s perspective of his ‘lost years’, when he randomly left Ellis and Annie. It’s a tragic story dealing with the struggles of homosexuality: Michael’s deep love for Ellis, loss of his lovers to AIDs, and then his own battle with the illness.
Heck, it’s full on. Winman does tragic very, very well. Almost in a light-hearted, skimming the surface sort of way, but still with all the feels.
She has this manner of ‘falling’ into the narrative. It seems effortless. I can’t quite describe it right, but it’s just beautiful.
And again, I’ll say that I love her clever use of language.
Some excerpts that stood out:
Terry told me your wife died?
And the way he said it was gentle and direct and uninhibited, as if the death of love was normal.
She did, said Ellis.
How? said Billy…
Car accident. Five years ago now.
Aw, fuck, said Billy.
And Aw fuck was the only suitable answer, thought Ellis. Not, Oh sorry, or, That’s awful. But Aw fuck. Billy was steering the conversation better than anyone had in a long time…
There was this interesting piece of trivia:
He would listen to people at Lewis’s grave comment that he died on the same day as JFK, and they were right, he did. But Lewis’s death was lost to the world as the world mourned Kennedy because sometimes you look away and things change.
In the space after the punchline and before laughter, a brief silence ensued, in which he made plans to go home, watch television that kind of thing, but then laughter erupted, and amidst the laughter people repeated the punchline and he was saved from an early night.
Carol’s eyelashes slapped against her cheek as she stared at his plaster cast.
I’m embarrassed by my socks. Green terry towelling, the ones I use when I clean the bathroom floor, fuck knows how they ended up in my good drawer.
I wonder what the sound of a heart breaking might be. And I think it might be quiet, unperceptively so, and not dramatic at all. Like the sound of an exhausted sparrow falling gently the earth.
Winman’s writing is gentle and lovely, and I’ll read more of her books.