The Los Angeles Times Book Review states "Winton is a one-man band of genius."
Heady words, and I snapped at the bait, intrigued by the raving reviews of the readers. (Be careful not to read all of them, as one gives away the entire ending in one sentence).
I was not disappointed. I was completely captivated by this story in a way I have never been by any other. The originality, teasing slang and the insight into australian post-world war II was a hearty combination that cadenced into one of the most fascinating books I have ever read.
This book went with me everywhere. I discussed it with many and especially enjoyed lingering over certain sentences ripe with slang. It was probably one of the most delightful aspects of reading this book; the freshness and foreigness to me as an American reading the saucy expressions of Australians. The humor is hilarious, and there was a smile for nearly every page I read and also moments that made your heart melt. At this very moment, there are friends of mine working in medicine (hospital) still trying to figure out what Tim Winton meant by "the smell of nugget in the webbing."
Aside from the hilarity, the novel is about two families that by chance come together to live in the same large home. The Pickles Family inherits a large home from a relative that dies suddenly and unexpectantly. Thanks to this relative (Uncle Joel) and his wise forethought, he bars his brother, Sam from selling the home for 20 years. Joel's motivation is a premeditated attempt to protect the wife and children of Sam and Sam's gambling at the race tracks, not to mention the unfortunate work related amputation of his fingers on one hand that renders him nearly unemployable. Since things are pretty grim anyway (they are living above the bar that Joel owns and "working" off the rent,) Sam's drunken wife Dolly, and his children move on up to Cloudstreet and the mansion in the offering.
Sam, ever so shifty, immediately, and without prior consultation with the rest of his family, rents out one half of the house to the Lamb family. The Lambs are the absolute opposite of the Pickles. Religious, and with their own family sorrows, they pack in and set up a grocery store in their one half of the lower story to make a living.
The Lambs arrive after suffering through the near drowning of their most beloved son, Fish. (note the irony.)
Fish, retarded and prone to sensing spirits in the house and in and of himself becomes essential to the story and the telling. Revolving around this poor boy are the steel strength-heart soft mother, Oriel, and father Lester, a hen-pecked, sweet tempered,entertaining pa. Son "Quick" is the angst-ridden brother who feels responsible for Fish's accident and grows up fighting the evils around him. The other sisters round out this lively family.
Many characters and sub-plots keep this book a page turner that will entertain and move you. I look forward to reading the rest of his novels.
PS : there is a study guide for those that want to enhance the novel. See Amazon.com under author Tim Winton.