Tim Wintons “Cloudstreet” an analysis of the novel
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The title, Cloudstreet, although a bit plain, couldn’t be more appropriately named as everything that happens within the story revolves around the house nicknamed Cloudstreet. Winton sets this book around Perth, Western Australia, around the time of the second end of the Second World War over a span of twenty years. From reading other Winton novels it’s easy to see that his part of the country has had a big impact on him and he has a strong affinity with his country and me being from the West makes it easy for me to relate to the novel. Winton uses words that only someone who has had the experience of growing up or living in country Western Australia would understand, for example he uses the word “boondie” which, if you had lived in country western Australia, is word used to describe a clump of hard sand and you use it to throw it at people, “boondie wars” and because he doesn’t explain this to the reader it gave me a little smile on my face and made me feel I had some sort of relationship with the author.
Before Chapter One opens there are about two pages of prologue. Winton sets the prologue on the bank of a river; a big happy family picnic is taking place in what he describes as a very picturesque scene, “Yachts run before an unfelt gust with bagnecked pelicans riding above them, the city their twitching backdrop, all blocks and points of mirror light down to the waters edge.” The prologue is written from the view of a narrator though it was hard to figure that out, for in the first few lines it says, “will you look at us by the river!” this makes it sound like its written in first person but later it Winton writes, “He hears nothing but the water.” And he goes into detail with what the character is feeling but still uses words like, “he” making it sound like the view of a narrator. The effect that writing in the view of someone outside the family creates is like you are there watching in all this “skylarking” and “chiacking” going on and it is a very nice image to be reading. Later into the prologue someone runs to the water of the river, this is written much like the beginning, very happy and a scene that if you saw on television you’d expect to see it all in slow motion with a very merry tune in the background.
The author writes, “He’s running… with his big overripe man’s body quivering with happiness.” And though someone’s body quivering is not generally a pretty sight, the context and the way that Winton writes it makes sound happy. The prologue is a very nice way to start the novel; it fills your mind with content thoughts and images, it makes you want to get into the novel. The stuff that occurs in a prologue generally happen throughout the novel and I found when reading there were parts that my mind would click and I would remember something from the prologue, this has a great effect on the reader and it made me want to keep on reading it even more. Through the whole prologue Winton doesn’t introduce any character and the only person we see remains nameless, this leaves the reader in suspense and makes them even more curious.
Though the prologue may sound like a very pleasant part of the book and on one level it is, though later in the novel I learnt that the prologue is about a character called Fish, a retarded boy, drowning himself in the river. This is not made clear in the prologue and I think that Winton doesn’t make this obvious for a few reasons, I think that he does this to not turn off a reader from the book, for a happy start is more likely to captivate a reader than a sad one, also he does it so that you get that big realisation later in the novel and also with this realisation the prologue shows a different point of view on the matter, showing that Fish’s death is not as dreadful as it may seem.
Cloudstreet is a strange book in the sense that the certain ways that Winton has written this book are very new to me. This book has no real protagonist as the book is an account of everything that has happened to two families over the span of twenty years so the person in the limelight changes nearly every couple pages. Another thing that I found weird in the way that Winton writes this novel is the way, much like that of the prologue, he changes the narrator throughout it all, though he keeps coming back to the way that someone is looking in on the family.
Cloudstreet follows the lives of two rural families, the Pickles’s and the Lamb’s, brought to the city by two separate catastrophes where they find themselves sharing the same old house on Cloud Street for over twenty years. The first chapter of the book opens at the waters edge in Geraldton (a small fishing town halfway between Broome and Perth) and the reader is introduced to Rose Pickles, Winton doesn’t really go into much detail into describing Rose when he introduces her, he just says she’s “a slender, brown girl with dark straight hair, cut hard across her forehead.” He also writes, “She was a pretty kid, but not as pretty as her mother.” This is something that really gets under Roses skin, not for the fact that she is vain (which she isn’t) but because she gets told every day.
In the first few lines of the chapter Winton introduces the reader to two recurring themes of the book, the water and the notion of bad luck, the “shifty shadow”. All throughout the first chapter there is this notion of superstition and the supernatural right from the beginning when the narrator says, “Rose Pickles knew something bad was going to happen. Something really bad.” Even Sam Pickles, her father, conveys this superstitious notion when the narrator says that “[he] was a fool to get out of bed that day… [He] knew damnwell that when the shifty shadow is about, you roll yourself a smoke and stay under the sheet.” Winton also introduces this idea of the supernatural early into the chapter when it says that Sam woke up next to the smell of his dead father. This introduction of superstition and the supernatural works well with the beginning prologue as it is such a contrast to the beautiful, picturesque nearly perfect world portrayed, this made me wonder about what the prologue had to do with anything and also the introduction of these themes made me start to get really curious onto just what this book is on about.
To follow on from Roses prophecy that bad luck was to follow, that day, four more pages into the chapter, Sam Pickles gets his fingers chopped off in an incident at work. Sam later sits down to think and comes to the conclusion that, “He was bereaved. He was unemployed. Minus a working hand. Homeless. Broke.” So it is after this catastrophe that they decide to pack it up and move to the city.
From the first paragraph of the Second Chapter it is obvious that it is going to be different from the first, for the way that Winton opens it and introduces the second family, the Lambs, also from country Western Australia, he makes them sound like a happy family going on a fishing trip and they seem to be they typical Aussie battler family, with the old car that only just works. This contrasts against the first chapter as in the first chapter everything just seemed to be depressing, evening opening with someone predicting that something bad was going to happen. The Lambs seem to be a good close-knit Christian family as it says, “[they] are Godfearing people” and they also have a nice big Christian family with six children. Winton briefly introduces each member of the family, not spending more than a couple of sentences on each one, that is except for one of the kids, Samson “Fish” Lamb.
Fish is the favourite of the family, “everyone loves fish” at first I was unclear of why Winton spends such a long time introducing Fish, sort of drilling all of his qualities of mischievousness, and wit into your mind but as I read later into the chapter I realised that this, mischievousness and craziness if Fish will be the only that I will read of as a couple of paragraphs later fish drowns. Winton uses repetition in this chapter to remind the reader of the prologue, although the repetition is very subtle an attentive reader might pick up on it, for just before Fish drowns Winton writes, “Fish skylarks up the beach.” This relates back to the prologue when Winton writes, “will you look at us… skylarking and chiacking about.” The effect that this repetition had on me was more of a reminder and a click in my brain but a further look at it made me wonder if Fish’s drowning has some significance to the prologue.
Also before Fish drowns there is a biblical reference, the author writes, “[the] men look like they are walking on water” much like that of Jesus, this significant for two reasons as it might just be there to make the reader think of Jesus or it could be a direct reference to the bible, as the story goes, Jesus is walking on water and someone tries to walk out to him but drowns, this is significant as soon after the author makes the statement, that they look like they are walking on water, Fish drowns, much like in the biblical story. Fish survives the drowning but is mentally damaged from the ordeal. At the beginning of this chapter I thought it was going to be completely different to the first chapter, it was to start off with bit the differences stop there as both chapters have seemingly the same plot, a family going through a catastrophe.
After the second chapter I was a bit sceptical of continuing on as the only things that have seemed to happen in the book, minus the prologue, have been sad and terrible things.
Throughout the novel the house on Cloud Street is personified, given human qualities of groaning, breathing, watching over everyone, and it also experiences a journey of its own. I think that Winton does this to convey the importance of a place, Sam Pickles comes to the realization that “you shouldn’t break a place, places are strong, important”, the house has become apart of who both the families are, and they have shaped the physical and spiritual presence of the house, this becomes noticeable when Sam wants to sell the house, it takes the mysterious black man to stress the importance of the place to who they are.