on May 27, 2004
I was gripped by this book. Tim Winton's prose is electric. But the plot proliferates into something unbelievable. Yet I felt frustration, not at the author, but with myself for not being able to clearly see the truth. Perhaps like the protagonist I was searching for the reality of the story. It posed more questions and answered few. I came away feeling a bit like I'd been served a delicious appetizer, wine, vegetables, but no entree. And I'm still hungry.
on April 10, 2004
For the first 50 pages I was sure this would become one of my favorite books of the year. I was captivated by Winton's brilliant prose and his intriguing premise: Scully's wife Jennifer flies from Australia to join him in Ireland but doesn't get off the plane. Their daughter Billie does, but won't tell what happened to her mother. I felt nicely set up for a fine tale of suspense, as Scully sets off to find Jennifer. There was indeed plenty of suspense, as well as marvelously vivid descriptions of places and people. But when I finished the book I was frustrated and enraged. Read Michael Leone's review--he expresses my feelings eloquently. Furthermore, why couldn't we learn what happened to Jennifer? The only clue is Billie's impression on the plane that her mother's face was turning to marble. Not very helpful. One must conclude that Winton doesn't want us to understand, he wants us to accept the mystery without the resolution. That seems to be the message of the horsemen who gathered near the ruined Irish castle, twice: they symbolize Scully's desperate search, his failure, and his wounded psyche. Well, my psyche wasn't wounded by this book but it was definitely let down.
on December 13, 2003
Rarely has an Aussie experienced such a miserable walkabout. Scully, the protagonist of this grim novel, drags his daughter Billie through Europe in search of his vanished wife, a black haired beauty with a similarly shaded heart. Scully is an utter moron, a naive everyman. His endearing unpretentiousness is negated by a tendency to make whopping errors of judgment. Winton writes dreamy sentences that evoke place and pain, but his plot stretches plausibility. We're required to believe that a good-natured bloke like Scully could actually subject his child to such tortures. His neglect is stupefying.
Gypsy girl Billie, in one of the novel's many role reversals, eventually shepherds her doofus father, her comic book Quasimodo come to life, as they chase down shadows in unfamiliar Amsterdam. This reader simply wanted the search to end, for the hapless wanderers to return to their refurbished tumble-down in County Offaly. When they finally do, the house still feels vacant, the rooms draughty and cheerless. What Scully learns from the whole ordeal, other than his own ineffectuality, is not entirely clear.
on October 23, 2002
I wanted to like this book, I really did. It's an interesting premise but the book sets the reader up for something and then totally fails to deliver on it. You learn nothing that you didn't already know at the start, which is nothing.
You spend the first eighty pages or so with Scully fixing up his house in Ireland for his seven-year-old daughter and wife who are supposedly coming to meet him. Eighty pages of him scrubbing, grouting, plastering, shoveling, painting, broken by some chatty interludes with a minor character Peter Keneally. Unless you're Joyce or Nabokov or Proust there is no way to make these mundane activities compelling for eighty pages. I would have forgiven Winton at forty pages, but at eighty it's just too dull and the attempt at plot build-up totally off kilter.
Finally, the first climax comes: Scully goes to pick up his wife and child at the airport and only the child emerges from the plane. Where is his wife? We all want to know, of course, as we've spent eighty pages waiting for her and listening to Winton tell us how much Scully is looking forward to it, but his daughter won't tell him, despite the fact that Winton gives us a brief scene with the child on the airplane (which airplane is just another one of the unsolved mysteries in this book) with her mother, so we KNOW at some point the child was with her. Billie, his daughter, will never tell him, and after a while, for no reason that I can possibly discern, other than Winton's attempt to keep up the novelty of "suspense", Scully stops asking her about it. Would you do this as a parent? Wouldn't you find some way to coax this vital info out of your seven-year-old child? But I guess the info isn't so important to Winton.
Scully then decides, as though he's a private detective -- why he doesn't spend his money on a professional we'll never know, but then Winton wouldn't have a novel -- to go look for her. And he takes his daughter with him! Imagine that! A guy dragging his seven-year-old all around Europe. (Nobody in the novel even questions how abusive and unfair this is -- even after the girl suffers a vicious dog attack.) Scully flocks to Greece where he meets a variety of extremely frustrating drunks and bohemians who REFUSE to answer a question directly or provide him (or us) with any tangible information. The story at this point becomes Monty Pythonish, it's so absurd. Here is a desperate man looking for his wife and a cynical friend just toys with him: "Where is she?" "She? She?" "Come on Arthur. [...]." "Oh dear."
Winton deliberately tantalizes us with the bare bones of a thriller without giving us any of the meat such a genre requires. Why? Is he being postmodern? That could be his defense, but then why does he try so hard at being "realistic"?
Then Scully meets a woman, Irma, en route to Italy, who, based ona photo she plucks from his wallet, claims she saw his wife at a hotel in Greece with another woman. Aha, the reader says. Finally, a morsel of information -- we're halfway through the book now -- might be given. Another false lead. Scully doesn't believe her, I guess because Irma's a bit of a floozy, and so he hardly probes into the idea of his wife being with a woman, hardly probes into any idea at all and yet insists on going from city to city of his expat past with his daughter. He refuses to pack it in.
Other coincidences abound that leave you and the characters NOWHERE and with NO ANSWERS. Scully finds himself a murder suspect in Greece, but he flees before any authority has a chance to apprehend him. Why this intrigue? An attempt to keep the pages turning, I guess. A telegram is sent to an Amex office in Florence, purportedly from his wife, telling him to meet him in Paris. She doesn't show. Was it a hoax? Why doesn't she come? Don't expect answers.
I found this book to be contrived, implausible, and in the end, utterly frustrating. Scully's relationship with his wife, with his past, who he thought she was, who he thinks he is, are not remotely explored, not even superficially a la Paul Auster, and are certainly not dramatized. Scully's entire "voyage" has no point, no catharsis, no resolution. It's a big shaggy dog story.
There are strengths: some of the prose is brisk and effective, the secondary characters are quite good and memorable, especially Peter Keneally and Irma, etc. The dialogue is top-notch, and unlike the story, real.
It just fails to add up to a story.
on August 8, 2001
Tim Winton the riders is a book about love. Love and the many things it forces you to do. Winton shows us a man[Scully] so in love his world becomes but clouded and he sees nothing but the best in people. He bows to his wife's demands and follows her all around the globe without a word.
Winton uses Scully's wife Jennifer's disappearance as a way to show us how much love influences people. Scully and his daughter are left to fend for themselves and they struggle.
Scullys world becomes clouded with this love. " Your two soft on people , you think the best of them", and he doesn't believe his wife has deserted him. Winton uses this to show us the madness of losing love as Scully gallivants around Europe in search of his lost bride dragging his child , neglecting his responsibilities as a father.
With some strange references to the mysterious "Riders" possibly soldiers of the apocalypse , who knows but strange souls in torment. Scullys soul torments and yet is he to become one of them?
Cleverly Jennifer's whereabouts is never revealed and we are left to wonder, what has happend.This has intrigued many of my counterparts and the majority has the feeling she is a lesbian, but who is to know. Strange people do strange things and Wintons Jennifer is nothing but strange(and sexy maybe).
This is a book to intrigue and wonder about. Haunting and baffling to the end.
on June 28, 2001
This is a book that deserves two readings to fully appreciate it's worth. Winton presents us with the classic scenario of the unexpected dissolution of a relationship. This time, it is the man and not the woman abandoned, the man and not the woman who follows their heart rather than their head. Scully is a man we can't help but like when we first meet him. He is content with what he has, and gains enormous pleasure from love and comforting surroundings. He is in every sense the new age guy, waiting for his family to join him for their new life in Ireland. The romance of their nomadic lifestyle and the resurrection of the old cottage in Ireland lure us in, so that Jennifer's disappearance is a profound shock. The novel descends with the disconcerting plummet of an elevator, as everything Scully believes to be true unravels. In the process, Scully unravels before our eyes, and we question whether we really like this man at all. A warning though. If you don't like endings that provoke more mystery than they solve, this book will leave you frustrated. This is where the second reading comes in. When you read it the second time you appreciate that this is one man's journey towards acceptance that sometimes life doesn't provide solutions or endings. If we are to move forward, we have to accept that life and people will not always give us what we think we need, to make sense of ourselves and others. On the second reading you see that for Winton to have given the reader answers that life will not give Scully, would be to defeat the purpose of the entire novel. Like Scully, we are left to wonder why. And that, is as it should be.
on March 19, 2001
Did I miss the point or did anyone notice that the major thread running throughout this book is child abuse. Suffice it to say that it wasn't intentional but when Scully's daughter shows up alone at Shannon airport traumatized and speechless, unable to explain the whereabouts of her mother, he begins the trek of a lifetime to find her. The book goes on and on as he drags Billie from country to country and bar to bar unable to face the truth, that his wife has left him.
Seven-year-old Billie, is mauled by a dog, her face becomes infected and scared due to improper care. Scully brings her to squalid bars while he gets drunk day after day where she listens to disgusting language. In Amsterdam she is left to her own demise, as her father gets drunk to drown his sorrow. Somewhere around this point Scully is hit over the head and carted off to jail on Christmas Day.
I stuck with this book because the author actually made Scully out to be a devoted dad and a likable character, the beginning of the book was exceptional and I was curious about the ending. It's just too bad he didn't follow through. I do wish there was more tie in to "The Riders", a ghostly group, mysteriously introduced in the beginning but that was also anticlimactic, and given no more than a few pages.
The time came when I felt like enough is enough it's time to take it like a man Scully, and take care of your child. I got to the point where I didn't even care what happened to his wife Jennifer. I find it hard to believe this book was up for the Booker prize. I found it easy to skip whole paragraphs in the middle as Scully's paranoia ran rampart and repetitive. I kept thinking am I missing the point here but every time I doubted my reading savvy I was put off by the underlying child abuse. Kelsana 3/19/01