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Filing For Divorce From The World In 'Eyrie'

Sunday, June 8, 2014

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Tim Winton is one of Australia's most decorated literary novelists. Rachel Martin speaks to Winton about his new novel, Eyrie, where good struggles with evil.



Tom Keeley's life is unraveling. He's lost his job in a very high-profile firing. His marriage is over, and he is swimming in all kinds of regret. But when a woman from his past emerges, along with her young grandson, Keeley finds new purpose in trying to help them escape the oppressive trappings of their own circumstance. This is the story Australian author, Tim Winton, weaves together in his new novel. It is called "Eyrie." Tim Winton joins me from our studios in London. Thanks so much for being with us.

TIM WINTON: Well, nice to be here.

MARTIN: I'm going to ask you, first off, about the title because I didn't know what this word meant. Can you explain in the context of this story?

WINTON: Well, I guess an ear-rie, or an eye-rie or an air-ie, depending on how you say it - I say air-ie, but, you know, I would, wouldn't I?


WINTON: An eyrie is like an eagle's nest, I suppose. It's a lookout. It's a high place, remote from which someone - and often, a raptor or a bird - will look out and down.

In this instance, it's the top floor of a rather seedy flat in a rather sad and neglected high-rise building in the unglamorous end of town, where a man is hiding away from the world. And, in a sense, he's taken out divorce proceedings against his fellow humans. He's disappointed. He's burnt out. He feels like a failure. And he's really just taken his ball and gone home. He doesn't want to play anymore.

MARTIN: And I laid out a kind of thumbnail sketch of Tom Keeley, but can you give us a larger introduction to him? You say he's filed divorce proceedings against humanity. That's a big statement. What has happened to put him in this place?

WINTON: He's been a high-profile environmental activist. He's sort of the face of big NGO. At a demonstration, in front of all the cameras, he's just got to the point where he's lost all judgment. And just gone ahead, and said something that's rendered him instantly unemployed and perhaps unemployable. And he's lost his house. His marriage has gone south. And he is, as his mother points out, quoting the great Australian poet, Les Murray - he's fallen to shopping in despairs boutiques.

MARTIN: And then, a childhood friend - I suppose we'd call her a friend - reappears. This woman named Gemma. Can you describe their connection? What's their history?

WINTON: Well, they grew up in the same neighborhood - in fact, in the same street. Gemma was part of a family of dysfunction and some violence. And she was a damaged little girl when he knew her. When she was a kid, she and her sister would often take refuge in Keeley's house.

She's gone on. Gemma has gone on, later in life, to live a life largely, it seems, at the mercy of men. And she's a battered and bruised woman of - you know, only still in her forties, but already a grandmother. Her daughter's in jail for drugs. She packs shelves at a supermarket at night. And he's unemployed.

MARTIN: You get a sense of place from this story, as well. You don't try to dilute the fact that this is happening in Australia. The characters talk in that dialect and with that vernacular. I have never been to Australia, but you do insinuate that there is a kind of social hierarchy there - a line to how people speak.

Keeley's mom, for example - Doris - you describe her as sort of intentionally overcoming her - the dialect of the place where they are from. She's crafted this new life for herself. And her speech mimics that, whereas Gemma's is different. Gemma's speech reflects the place where they came from. She still talks the same.

WINTON: Yeah. I mean, there isn't a kind of codified class system in Australia as there is in Britain, where people recognize one another instantly by their accents. It's a little more murky in Australia. But, yeah, I think Gemma speaks in the language of her childhood, which is the language of working-class people of modest education, shall we say. And in many first-world countries, you know, we like to deflect our gaze from issues of class.

MARTIN: There are a lot of heavy themes in this book, Tim - from environmental crises and Tom Keeley kind of unraveling and not believing in the good of people anymore.

WINTON: Oh, lucky it's so earnest and proper.

MARTIN: (Laughter).

WINTON: Hopefully, it's a bit funny, as well.

MARTIN: Oh, it is. But perhaps as a way to wrap up our conversation, can you point to the lightness in this story and perhaps to the place or a point where Tom Keeley can see some kind of redemption - can see some kind of evidence that he can do good again?

WINTON: Well, I guess it comes in the form of the little boy, Kai, who seems - despite his experience of men, which has, you know, in the main, always been ghastly - he kind of chooses Keeley to save him, in a way. He's the agent of grace, in a peculiar sense - the means by which Keeley rediscovers himself, even if it means that Keeley has to really put himself in the path of trouble to spare Kai the peril that's coming his way. I think the book is really about what it takes to open yourself up to life again, even if it comes at great cost to you.

MARTIN: Tim Winton. His new novel is called "Eyrie." He joined us from our studios in London. Thanks much for talking with us, Tim.

WINTON: It's a great pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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