I find memoir essay collections a bit hit-and-miss after reading a disappointing collection from Jonathan Franzen, one of my favourite authors. So late last year when another favourite author of mine, Tim Winton, released his collection titled The Boy Behind the Curtain I thought I’d meet him half way and borrow the book from the library before deciding whether to add it to my collection or not. My anticipation to read it grew after I heard an interview with him on Books and Arts Daily. I really recommend taking the time to listen to the episode if you’re not sure whether this book is for you or not. So, was this collection a hit or a miss?
I should not have doubted Winton’s ability to capture me with the written word and his carefully constructed sentences. The range and length of the essays within the collection kept me turning the pages and interested throughout the book. Unlike Franzen, Winton found the right balance between memoir and thought provocation and I am struggling to think of a single one of the stories I didn’t find engaging. That’s really rare in a collection, I think.
As readers it feels like we’re the ones being allowed behind the curtain to learn more not only about the boy but also the man Winton has become. And what an inspiration he is. From his beginnings in rural Western Australia (where his father, the police officer, was based), family trauma following a serious accident, his Christian faith, and then bigger topics such as environmental conservation, forced detention of refugees, class, and then back to personal reflections on road trips and solitariness, each page was a ride and a joy to read.
Here is just a small snippet:
Language, I was to discover, is nutrition, manna without which we’re bereft and forsaken, consigned like Moses and his restive entourage to wander in a sterile wilderness.
I must meet this man. I have been quite lucky to have been able to meet so many Australian authors I admire, but unfortunately the last time Winton was in Adelaide the tickets sold out before I could get there. I would very much like to tell him how inspiring his writing is.
I would have given this 5 stars but, given some of the essays in this collection had been printed elsewhere before, it felt strange to do that (at least, in my rating system). The language was also very Australian, so readers of other countries might not understand all the terms or references. The printer also majorly messed up in the copy I had, where half a page of text was repeated on the last page of the book, but that didn’t impact the rating, obviously, just a fun side note.
I’m not sure whether you need to be a fan of Winton’s to appreciate this collection, but to me, he knocked it out of the park.
The Boy Behind the Curtain by Tim Winton: 4.5 out of 5 stars!