7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
- Published on Amazon.com
This simply written yet surprisingly sophisticated coming-of-age story set in Western Australia was Tim Winton's first novel. It won the Vogel Award in 1981 and, reading it now, it comes as no surprise that Winton has gone on to become a multi-award winning, Booker-shortlisted novelist. Two qualities much admired in Winton's short stories of the same era - a straightforward simplicity of language, and a steadfast, minimalist refusal to explain everything for the reader - are employed very effectively here. In the stoic interaction of his male characters he captures that paradoxical combination of qualities we tend to associate with Australian men: a reserved bluntness. Yet there's nothing unsophisticated about Winton's craft. There are some well-chosen motifs which resonate through the novel - the notion of 'diving into the wreck' (set up with an epigraph from Adrienne Rich's poem); a sense of anxiety about masculine identity, established in the prologue episode and echoing through all that follows; and the final explanation of the 'open swimmer' that folds back and makes new meaning out of much that has come before it. Far from being pretentious, forced or merely decorative, these 'literary' touches are gently deployed, quietly amplifying the themes of the novel and elevating it from a conventional coming-of-age teen drama into the realm of serious literature. Winton's refusal to neatly resolve every strand of Jerra's story is true to life, too - something which many coming-of-age stories, usually written by or from the perspective of nostalgic middle-aged men, are not. Winton published this when he was only 22, which might have something to do with it. It's clearly a young man's novel, but it rings with the truth of lived experience. For that reason, it still has something to say.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
- Published on Amazon.com
The Open Swimmer is an unusual hybrid. On the one hand it borrows from the masculinist traditions of Hemingway (esp. of the Nick Adams stories), but on the other hand it complicates that masculinist tradition with its other main influence, Sylvia Plath. The characters in masculinist literature often quell emotional/psychic turmoil indirectly by escaping into the wild and hunting and fishing; whereas the characters in feminist literature often work out their psychic issues by directly confronting them in verse or in dairies. Jerra, the main character in The Open Swimmer, does a bit of both.
The book is often categorized as a coming-of-age novel. It is that but I think it makes more sense to read the book as a story about trauma. To a certain extent all coming-of-age stories involve trauma but the trauma that the main character of The Open Swimmer is working through is so unusual and so central that it places the book in another kind of category. The allure of the book is that this central trauma is never named (at least not directly) but this is also one of the books liabilities.
Although the exact nature of that traumatic event is never named or explained, every episode of the book alludes to it. In place of a description of that central trauma, we get a detailed examination of its effects. To a certain extent this works but this also leaves the story feeling incomplete and the reader unsatisfied. It is obvious that Jerra is weighed down with the memory of his trauma and every one of his actions can be read as literal and/or symbolic attempts to come to terms with that trauma; and it is also clear that Jerra reads the letters and diaries of family members in an attempt to understand his own trauma in the context of a larger family trauma. But too much remains sketchy, unclear, only hinted at.
Jerra is damaged goods, so, not too surprisingly, he is drawn to individuals who have also been traumatized in some way. What remains unclear is whether he has always been drawn to unusual, poetic and or tragic types due to a natural inborn temperament (and that life itself feels traumatic to him) or if one central event disrupted an otherwise normal life and left him feeling stranded in the world. This and much of the book is simply unclear. What is clear enough is that Jerra's deepest connection (and this puts the book squarley in the realm of masculinist fiction) is to the fish that he ritually preys upon. Jerra's masculinist side is drawn to the outdoors where he can escape the complications and meanings of human entanglements/histories and draw simpler and more personal meanings and confidence in his abilities from his outback survivalist excursions. One might say that his feminist side is less certain of the masculinist import assigned to such struggles and more interested in viewing these masculinist excursions as feminine attempts to plumb his own psychological depths. The natural imagery is often feminized and eroticized. Most masculinist lit ends with a sense of domination having been achived, but Winton is not interested in taking the usual route through this terrain. In fact at books end it does not appear Jerra is at all interested in mastery.
The book may be too overripe with suggestive symbolism for some reader's tastes. It may prove too confounding for readers who want more concrete/digestible content. What I think we have here is a book written by a young man who is not yet willing or not yet able to identify exactly what it is that troubles him and so everything feels a bit muddy. But this book will apeal to readers who like the freshness and enthusiasm of first books over the more polished quality of later and surer efforts.
3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
- Published on Amazon.com
I found 'An Open Swimmer' a very disappointing novel. As a student of English Literature in year eleven, I was required to read the book as part of the course. Personally, I found that Winton seemed to try and make it an abstract piece of writing. This attempted style of writing on Winton's part makes 'An Open Swimmer'seem too concocted and unnatural.
I was disappointed also as I am a great admirer of Winton's other works like 'Cloudstreet' or 'Shallows'.