The Shepherd's Hut

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date: 19 Jun 2018

Member Reviews

The Shepherd's Hut is set in a land that is brutal and located in a remote part of Western Australia. It is a story. about an abused teen named Jaxie Clackton, who leaves home fearing he will be blamed for his father's death. Traveling to meet his girlfriend he comes across an an exiled priest, Fintan MacGillis, who lives alone in a shepherd's hut. A friendship develops between the two and the ending of the book is a testament to Jaxie's character. Wonderfully detailed setting and an ability of this author to portray flawed characters make this a worthwhile read. 

Told using much of the Australian vernacular, I did have a hard time understanding some its context, but overall, this was a satisfying and recommended read.

Thank you to Tim Winston, Farrar, Strauss and Giroux, and NeGalley for a copy of this story.
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I read constantly, and I love Australian authors, so why did I not know Tim Winton?  Oh, but if I didn’t, I do now, and that’s the thing about reading, isn’t it?  This affecting novel is told in the first person by Jaxie Clackton, a horribly abused young man you will never forget, as rough and raw as his short life has been.  Jaxie runs away into the western Australian wilderness where, with his survival in doubt, he discovers another unlikely loner grubbing out an existence.  What a story this is, rich in both place and characterization.  Thank you, Mr. Winton, for this book and for everything else you’ve written that I’m going to read.

Full Disclosure:  A review copy of this book was provided to me by Farrar, Straus and Giroux via NetGalley.  I would like to thank the publisher and the author for providing me this opportunity.  All opinions expressed herein are my own.
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Winton creates an atmosphere that is at the same time both rich and bleak. Though "The Shepherd's Hut" is many ways a meditative novel with few characters, Winton has done a great job stoking a growing sense of dread and uncertainty within the narrative.
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Tim Winton has delivered a morality tale hidden in Australia’s outback, a story to match the harshness and cruelty of the country. The prose is rugged and true, profane and profound. The reader is forced to consider consequences of the smallest action. And perhaps the perils of paranoia. This isn’t Mad Max dystopia; this is real, this is now and it’s frightening. Oh, and g’day mate!!!
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This was a great read, I struggled in the beginning trying to get a hold of the slang used, but the story telling was amazing. A story of secrets, trust, murder, and an ending that I was not expecting. The second half of this story picked up and I could not put it down. An odd friendship and bond between an unlikely pair, a priest and a young kid. The two of them with their own story to tell, a tale that might stay with you for a while.
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I was unable to get into this book mostly due to the slang spoken, which was pervasive.  It sounded like a great story.
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When I made my summer reading recommendations, I pointed out that there seems to be a "new western" genre emerging. At the time, it was female authors taking on the genre in new and interesting ways. But I think this book also merits inclusion in the category, despite its theme of toxic masculinity (words I've seen in almost every review I've read about it and every interview with the author, so not my box.)

Last year, I read this author's "landscape memoir" about Western Australia, Island Home. Nobody ever writes about this area of Australia! It is full of unique creatures, flora and fauna, and the interesting types of people who would inhabit such a place. (Coincidentally I loved that book so much that I 1)Included it on my Best Reads of 2017 list, 2) Gave my copy to my in-laws who were heading to Australia, and then felt sad and bought another copy for my self, and 3) Made Tim Winton an author I wanted to read more of in 2018.

All to say that this is a marvelous setting for a western. Jaxie Clackton is on the run after a very violent event in his home, after years of living in an abusive situation and negative environment. He ends up finding a shepherd's hut near the sand flats, after a hard journey with little water and only 'roos for food. It's a fairly quick read but all in the first-person, and in a very distinct dialect. The audiobook has a female narrator but you may listen to an excerpt to get a sense of the speech pattern and voice of Jaxie. I read the eBook but think the audio would be the way to go! For me, the character study is strong, but the landscape and actual voice really make it a stellar read.
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Tim Winto’s “Shepherd’s Hut” epitzomies the use of a first-person narrator to tell a compelling story. Jax is a teenager on the run in Australia, and it’s through his unique perspective that readers absorb this unique coming-of-age story. Some of the narration is conveyed in slang or local colloquialisms not familiar to US readers, but their meaning is clear enough and the words add considerable color & energy to the story., Winton’s previous novel, Eyrie, was a brilliantly told work about a disillusioned, middle-aged former environmental activist.. That his new book should be so different—and yet equally engaging—is further testament to the author’s considerable power. Well done!
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Savage and spiritual, Winton’s short new novel is engaging but dark. Its young, survivalist hero is a figure of wrath, love and ultimately divine power in a stark landscape populated by sinners. As ever, Winton’s writing excites while spooling out a.narrative of unpredictable content. The ending feels rushed, but this author rarely disappoints.
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I gave up after struggling for a while. I could not follow the Australian vernacular. I should have done more research. I was not prepared for the dark subject matter.
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the Rich canvas of Tim Winton!

Winton's opening instantly raises the tension. Justifiably angst ridden teenage Jaxi is heading for safety. His flight into the Australian outback 'bush' is grueling and I for one am amazed that he can even contemplate it, beginning as he does on foot. No one in their right mind heads into the Australian Outback as precipitously as Jaxie does! Carrying a gun, a few supplies, binoculars and water, all that he's able to scramble together, Jaxie heads out from Monkton in Western Australia north to Magnet to find his cousin and girlfriend Lee. His only friend. The only one who gets him.
Jaxie worked with his father Sid Clackton, aka Cap, the local butcher, a vicious alcoholic who has abused his wife and son all of Jaxie's life. When his mother dies with cancer, Jaxie is chained to his circumstances not through love as he had been, but through despair.
The thing is Jaxie arrives home to find Cap's body under the car, killed by the engine when a makeshift winch failed. Jaxie flees because he reckons people are going to say it was no accident, that he, Jaxie had killed Cap. Given that his father had just a few hours prior beaten the crap out of him, and that the only cop in town was Cap's friend, and as mean as his father to boot, Jaxie takes off.
Typical Winton reading! Hard, fast, and pithy with colloquialisms flying. As always his prose and descriptive writing is absolutely brilliant. If you've ever stepped though the Australian bush you'll recognize the landscape. If you haven't, imagining is made possible by a few words,
        "I dug right into them scraggly trees. Stepping careful through the million sticks  
         and strips of bark in the shadows because getting snakebit wasn’t gunna be any 
          help."
I keep reading and am truly amazed by Winton's descriptions of the Outback, word pictures that bring to mind Fred William's paintings. Oh my! Just for this alone I'd give this book  five stars. Let alone the story matter. This is a giant of a novel, unbridled and raw. I love it! And the small things, like Jaxie's binoculars, can be turning points.
Themes of violence, relationships, love, masculinity, and redemption are all heightened by the staccato delivery. Layer upon layer is pulled back as Jaxie's story unfolds and enriches in his meeting with Fintan MacGinnis, an Irish priest hermit type character in the middle of nowhere, all set against the brilliant light of the Western Australian landscape. An unapologetic view of life's harshness and relationships. I was fixated!

A NetGalley ARC
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Narrated in a distinctive voice of pure rage but incredible sensitivity, riddled with heavy Australian slang and a sense of place that mimics the unforgiveness and brutality of our protagonist, The Shepherd’s Hut is a raw coming of age story, an open wound that throbs and widens as the story goes. This is a tale that creeps up on you, gets under your skin and makes you uncomfortable, if not for the way unflinching violence is described and performed, then for the masterful atmosphere that transports you right into the heat of a deserted wild. But as the story goes, what really made the book stand out to me, and made me connect to it on a deep, emotional level, was the blant sensibility that still haunts Jaxie, how fragile the boy, in all his feral might and crude manners, can be.

There are a million different themes and symbols that I have picked up here and there, some passages that have really stuck with me, beautiful and almost out of place in all the brutality, while still feeling like they truly belong -- which is how I felt while reading the book; like something didn’t belong, while still being exactly where it should. It’s a haunting, jarring read, and I’m sure I will return to it many times after I’ve read it and still discover and note something new, different. And that, to me, is the sign of a really good book.
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The Shepherd's Hut by Tim Winton is a highly recommended novel that is emotional, disturbing, and brutal but eloquently written.

Jaxie Clackton, 15, a physically and emotionally abused young man flees the small town where he lives after seeing his father’s accidental death. Jaxie takes a small amount of food, a rifle and a water jug and then starts out on foot through the back county of Western Australia, setting a course toward where his cousin Lee lives. He loves her and thinks they can escape somewhere together after he hides out for a while. After hiking for days, starving and thirsty, he comes to an abandoned cabin where he takes shelter. When exploring one day, hoping for water, he sees a shepherd's hut and meets exiled priest Fintan MacGillis. Jaxie must decide if he can trust MacGillis. The two eventually forge an unlikely bond until Jaxie discovers something nearby that could threaten the safety of both of them.

This is Jaxie's first person account and Winton writes in Jaxie's vernacular, slang and all which might throw some readers for a loop. Most of the words you will be able to figure out through the usage.  As he talks about his father's cruelty and the beatings and then his acting out, your heart will break - and then you'll wonder why the neighbors in the small town didn't take action. It will physically hurt when he talks about his mom, who passed away from cancer, and her not leaving her husband despite the beatings... and Jaxie puzzles out why she stayed. Jaxie thinks he is tough, has acted out, because he's had to be tough.

Winton's ability to portray Jaxie and MacGillis is absolutely amazing. The writing is impressive and eloquent. The story is troubling, full of pain and suffering. This is a story of damaged people respecting each other's secrets and trying to form a very unlikely friendship. For those who need to know, there is blood. There is catching and butchering animals. There is swearing and bad grammar as this is Jaxie's voice. These are two social outcasts working together. It is the story of a boy becoming a man.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
http://www.shetreadssoftly.com/2018/06/the-shepherds-hut.html
https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/2430302570
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Received on #netgalley in exchange for my review. A teenaged boy, suddenly orphaned and on the run, meets a banished priest in the wild. The writing is direct, energetic and heavy on dialect, which puts you right into the character’s mind. The story also has a strong sense of character and place as well as strong biblical overtones in that it ends in violence and redemption. My only issue is that it gets a little too into minutiae at times.
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I received a free advance e-copy of this book and have chosen to write an honest and unbiased review. I have no personal affiliation with the author.  Another great story by Tim Winton describing how brutal the Aussie Outback can be.  A 16-year-old boy is on the run from the law.  Life has made him wise beyond his years but he is still young and inexperienced.  His one goal is to get to his cousin, Lee.  He is rough as well as the Aussie slang that he uses throughout the book.  At times I had to research what he meant.  Couldn’t put it down.  I never knew what was going to happen next.  A violent and exciting ending.  Tim Winton is a very descriptive writer.  This book is well worth the read and I look forward to reading more from Tim Winton in the future.
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A tough but worthy read.  Jaxie has had a miserable existence and while his abusive father is now dead, he's concerned that he will be the chief suspect.  Note that this is written in Australian, for want of a better term, and Jaxie uses a lot of slang that likely will be unfamiliar to US readers= but it's perfect.  His flight across Australia to a cousin, Lee, leads him to Fintan MacGillis, a priest who is dealing with his own demons.  This unlikely pair relate to one another in ways you might find surprising.  I especially liked the bush setting (would have thought Jaxie would have known better about what he would need to survive.). Thanks to Netgalley for the ARC.  This one has life lessons and notwithstanding all the grimness, a positive outlook.
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This is a spare and elemental tale, somewhere between a biblical parable and Cormac McCarthy’s “The Road.”  Jaxie is a lad of 15 running away from home, a tiny town in Western Australia.  After his mother dies of cancer, it just got too tough to put up with the perpetual physical abuse from his alcoholic father (Captain Wankbag he calls him).  He sets out on foot to cross a salt desert to get to his cousin Lee, a girlfriend who was the only light of his life before the family put an end to their secret relationship by moving her elsewhere.  Along the way he runs out of food and water and hunting for game a desperate endeavor.  Luckily comes across a shepherd’s hut on the shore of a dried salt lake.  But as he cases the place from a distance, he finds it is occupied by some old coot who is perpetually talking or singing to himself.  The man, Fintan, eventually becomes aware of Jaxie and invites him to eat, trying his best to sooth his fears and suspicions about his dangerousness.   They are both so lonely that an odd sort of friendship develops.  

It turns out that Fintan has somehow been exiled there for something bad that he has done.  Which he never explains.  But as they go about as a team taking care of their survival, gathering firewood, hunting, etc., they come to trust each other while respecting each other’s secrets.  Human civilization at the bare bones level, as I said elemental.  Some of the songs Fintan sings feature Ned Kelley, a notorious outlaw with Robin Hood features from the 19th century.  The romance of surviving beyond all the evils of the powerful monsters of the world ends when they come across the path of some bad dudes using the remote wilderness for their own nefarious activities.   As Jaxie says about why he defended a rare friend in grade school from bullies:      

"I’m loyal, me, and not many people understand what that means.  Once I’m in I’m all in.  For good.."

I love the resilience of this pair of social rejects and was impressed with the precise poetry of Jaxie’s vernacular.  For example, here is a great sample of gumption in his inner voice about his origins: 
"I knew what people thought, but.  Jaxie Claxton, that dirty fuckup.  He was getting what he deserved.  And his mum was just another budgie-brain female too stupid to save herself.  The Cap they had to be nice to, to his fat face anyway… But they had him pegged.  Claxtons, we were rubbish.  Town like Monkton, one pub, one roadhouse, rail silo and twelve streets, half of them empty, small enough everyone heard something and they all had a fucking opinion.  But no neighbor ever once came running when mum needed help.  No one called the cops.  Not with that great one-eyed pile of shit running amuck.."
  
By the time he went off to high school, his experience with his father’s punishments made him fearless in the face of bullies:
"Every numbnuts in the district wanted to have a go, even the Abos and fuck, they fight wild.  I was never big but I was game. …Any prick wanted a blue I’d give it to him hot and hard and I wasn’t waiting round till he was ready."

Sometimes this kind of savage approach to life is just the courageous path one needs to survive.  Fortunately, Jaxie has the wisdom to recognize another kind of courage in this old man in the wilderness:    
"I never did know what to make of Fintan MacGillis.  In the end you could say I knew what kind of man he was and maybe that was the important thing. …
He was one of them geezers been out on his own so long he talks to himself all day, tells himself what he’s about to do, what he should do, what he’s forgotten to get done.  He talked so much it was like a junkpile he chucked at you.  …With that accent of his and the way he said things fancy and musical, it was like camouflage and you knew deep down he’d been doing this all his life, hiding in clear sight."

I have only previously had the pleasure of Winton’s “Dirt Music”, which was a quirky romance.  Thus I look forward to some of his respected work, such as “Cloudstreet” and “The Riders.”  This book was provided for review by the publisher through the Netgalley program.
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THE SHEPHERD'S HUT  (2018)
By Tim Winton
Farrar, Strauss and Giroux, 288 pages.
★★★★

One of the hardest things for a novelist to do is capture adolescence. Most writers such as 57-year-old Tim Winton who are accomplished enough to land a novel with a major publishing house have long ago left behind the confused logic of adolescence. Plus, most of us would have trouble explaining our own coming of age, let alone concoct a convincing story for someone else. In literary terms, there's a reason why Mark Twain's Adventures of Huckleberry Finn has been, since 1884, the gold standard is depicting the adolescent mind. 

Winton's The Shepherd's Hut will, in many ways, remind you of Huckleberry Finn. His 15-year-old protagonist and narrator Jackson ("Jaxie") Clackton is–like Winton– Australian, but the parallels to Huck Finn are striking. Both Huck and Jaxie grew up semi-feral, both have abusive fathers, both cuss a blue streak, neither is much for book learning, and both engage in a great adventure. Jaxie is a bit cruder, but replace the dark Mississippi alluvial soil with the parched red sands of Western Australian, make the dangers mores site-specific, and exchange Twain's runaway slave for an exiled priest, and the two tales converge. 

This is the case even though The Shepherd's Hut is set in the present. Winton gives the story a timeless quality. Jaxie knows some music and news from television, but he's effectively removed from direct everyday reality. He lives in a dying town in isolated Western Australia, an area roughly four times the size of Texas with under 2.6 million people—more than 75% of whom live in the city of Perth. No city luxuries for Jaxie; his town is so dead that even the IGA has closed. The Clacktons are poor, Jaxie is unpopular in school, and he's a loner–except for a childhood friend Lee (Lee-Ann) who becomes a bit more than that as they move into their teenage years. As if Jaxie's life can't get any worse, his mother dies of cancer, a tragedy that exacerbates his father's drinking and penchant for violence. When Jaxie and Lee are caught in compromising position, she is carted off to a town far away. Jaxie has to deal with losing Lee, his aunt's withering condemnation of his morals, and a damaged eye courtesy of a clouting from his father—a figure Jaxie despises so much that he calls him "Captain Wankbag."

Jaxie's adventure begins when his father is killed in a freakish garage accident and Jaxie discovers his body. In his 15-year-old mind, he's sure he'll be accused of murdering his father. So Jaxie sets off across the empty expanses with a vague idea of finding his soul mate Lee and living away from people. To give a sense of how little Jaxie has thought this through, he takes a rifle to shoot game, but not many cartridges. He wisely chucks his Vans for hiking shoes, but grabs a plastic cooler instead of water bags, doesn't pack extra clothing, and hastily grabs a butter knife instead of a proper hunting blade. (Trying skinning a kangaroo with a butter knife!) 

Winton vividly describes the landscape, but does so in ways that emphasize how it would be seen through 15-year-old eyes. I admired how Winton depicted the vastness of the land and its silent indifference to those upon it. In this sense, Winton makes us feel Jaxie's peril in ways more profound than harrowing escapes from brown snakes, venomous spiders, abandoned mine shafts, stray barbed wire, or monitor lizards. In fact, Winton mainly makes us worry that Jaxie will perish of dehydration or starvation. 

One thing that doesn't endanger Jaxie is loneliness. He is relieved to find a water tank in the middle of nowhere, but disgusted to find that there's actually someone living in the old shepherd's hut to which it's attached. Enter Finton MacGillis, an elderly Irishman living alone in a place that Jaxie thinks is overpopulated by a factor of one. We eventually learn that Finton is an exiled priest who talks non-stop, but won't say why he's been transported to his solitary fate. Can Jaxie trust Finton, or is he some sort of conman or pedophile? He thinks he wants nothing to do with Finton, but can't explain why he keeps delaying his quest to find Lee. 

What ensues is a strange relationship that makes sense only because Winton so thoroughly probes subjects such as the teenage psyche, the impact of loneliness on adults, and the spiritual reflection unvarnished nature induces. Something dramatic occurs to upset the delicate equilibrium, but that's up to you to discover. It's also up to you to determine if it's compelling. I found it slightly more plot convenient than convincing, but the rest of the book enthralled me. 

I highly recommend this book. You will quickly understand why Winton is a four-time winner of the Miles Franklin Award, which is given to the best work on Australian life, and why he's been twice shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize. 

Rob Weir
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"...I suspect that God is what you do, not who or what you believe in."

This book is what would happen if Holden Caulfield was on the lam in Western Australia.  People have been raving about this book, and I didn't think I was going to be one of them for an early percentage of the book.  It's coarse and harsh, and I don't mind harsh, but it's survival harsh - like eating bugs and killing bush animals for food.  The cute hoppy kind.

I don't want to say too much about the story, but Jaxie finds himself parched and hungry at the edge of a pink salt lake.  This is where he discovers the Shepherd's Hut and where the story took off.  It was the slowest most magnificent build of a tale until the end where I couldn't flip the Kindle pages fast enough.  Winton is a fantastic writer (though be warned, a lot of Aussie slang is used along with myriad f-bombs and c-drops.)  He spares not a care for the squeamish.

This is a travelogue (of sorts) of Western Australia, a tale of survival and friendship.  Of introspection and examination of life and death.  I absolutely loved it, and as it wound down, I was wishing there were more.  My guess is we'll be hearing more about this book in the coming months.
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Jaxie Clackton is fleeing into the rough regions of Western Australia. His mother died leaving the teenage boy with his abusive alcoholic father. Jaxie has never fit in anywhere and has always been spoiling for a fight, trying to get over someone else before they get to him. When a accident occurs, Jaxie thinks he must get out of town before someone decides to blame him. 

Winton tells the story from Jaxie’s point of view, going back and forth until the reader can almost think what Jaxie thinks. Jaxie’s voice is emotionally raw – full of swagger, some fear and a touch of wistfulness. He is trying to survive on his own in a raw land with few resources, until he can make it to the girl/cousin who he hopes is his soul mate. Sometimes his choices are poor but on occasion he makes a good play.  And when he meets the occupant of the shepherd’s hut he will be tested in many ways.

Reading a book by an Australian writer who uses the vernacular was initially a challenge. Stupidly, I tried to define every unknown word/phrase. But then I decided to let go, just immerse in the story; then the language became more rhythmic, easier and enjoyable. 

Great coming of age book that blows many of the rest of this genre away!

Thanks to Netgalley and the publisher for welcoming me to Australia.
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