In Tim Winton’s latest novel ‘The Shepherd’s Hut’ an Australian teen, Jaxie, flees a violent home when his abusive father unexpectedly meets his end courtesy of a faulty car jack. He decides to head for the home of the one person who has shown him any love a shaven-headed girl called Lee which means he must trek through the barren wilderness of Australia.
This journey into the outback takes him to the shack of an itinerant preacher, Fintan MacGillis. As the tale unfolds an uneasy bond develops between the two unloved outsiders as Jaxi learns to trust another human being. Told in a raw colloquial language full of Aussie slang the perfectly matches the rawness of the terrain around them, we soon see that this hostile landscape is more like a beautiful protector and that it is the city and the corrupted civilization it spawns that is the true threat. Themes of redemption and salvation abound as the book moves inexorably towards its violent conclusion. Many books boast of radical plot lines and deconstructed narratives while missing the key ingredient- something that moves us on a visceral level and in this regard Winton’s novel delivers in spades. It is probably too simple, and in the current environment, too male of a tale to win much praise but it is a book that will stay with you long after reading it.