From Tim Winton, Australia’s most decorated and beloved novelist and the author of Cloudstreet, comes The Shepherd’s Hut, the story of a young man on a thrilling journey of self-discovery in one of the harshest, near-uninhabitable climates on Earth.
Tim Winton is Australia’s most decorated and beloved novelist. Short-listed twice for the Booker Prize and the winner of a record four Miles Franklin Literary Awards for Best Australian Novel, he has a gift for language virtually unrivaled among writers in English. His work is both tough and tender, primordial and newalways revealing the raw, instinctual drives that lure us together and rend us apart.
In The Shepherd’s Hut, Winton crafts the story of Jaxie Clackton, a brutalized rural youth who flees from the scene of his father’s violent death and strikes out for the vast wilds of Western Australia. All he carries with him is a rifle and a waterjug. All he wants is peace and freedom. But surviving in the harsh saltlands alone is a savage business. And once he discovers he’s not alone out there, all Jaxie’s plans go awry. He meets a fellow exile, the ruined priest Fintan MacGillis, a man he’s never certain he can trust, but on whom his life will soon depend. The Shepherd’s Hut is a thrilling tale of unlikely friendship and yearning, at once brutal and lyrical, from one of our finest storytellers.
|Publisher:||Farrar, Straus and Giroux|
|Product dimensions:||5.40(w) x 8.30(h) x 1.10(d)|
About the Author
The preeminent Australian novelist of his generation, Tim Winton is the author of the bestselling novels Cloudstreet, The Riders, and Dirt Music, among many other books. He has won the Miles Franklin Literary Award four times (for Shallows, Cloudstreet, Dirt Music, and Breath) and has twice been short-listed for the Booker Prize (for The Riders and Dirt Music). He lives in Western Australia.
Read an Excerpt
When I hit the bitumen and get that smooth grey rumble going under me everything's hell different. Like I'm in a fresh new world all slick and flat and easy. Even with the engine working up a howl and the wind flogging in the window the sounds are real soft and pillowy. Civilized I mean. Like you're still on the earth but you don't hardly notice it anymore. And that's hectic. You'd think I never got in a car before. But when you've hoofed it like a dirty goat all these weeks and months, when you've had the stony slow prickle-up hard country right in your face that long it's bloody sudden. Some crazy shit, I tell you. Brings on this angel feeling. Like you're just one arrow of light.
And bugger me, here I am hitting a hundred already and still not even in top gear. On squishy upholstery, with one of them piney tree things jiggling off the mirror. I'm flying. And just sitting on me arse to do it. Off the ground. Out of the dirt. And I'm no kind of beast anymore.
So what does that make me? Someone you won't see coming, that's what. Something you can't hardly imagine.
Say I hit your number, called you up, you'd wonder what the fuck, every one of youse, and your mouth'd go dry. Maybe you're just some stranger I pocket-dialled. Or one of them shitheads from school I could look for. Any of youse heard my voice now you'd think it was weather. Or a bird screaming. You'd be sweating sand. Like I'm the end of the world.
Well, no need to worry. I don't forgive you, none of youse, but I'm over all that now. You're all in the past.
Me phone's flat anyway. Plugged into the dash, charging or dying, I dunno which. So relax, I'm not calling. Everything's changed. I'm not what I was. All I am now is a fresh idea fanging north up the highway to where it's hot and safe and secret. I got someone to collect. In Magnet. She'll be waiting and ready. Least I hope so.
Fifth gear. It took a few goes to find but I'm there now. With red dirt flashing by. Mulga scrub. Glinty stones. Roadkill crows. The Jeep reeks from all them sloshing jerry cans in the back. But the windows are open and the wind is warm and the stink of petrol beats the smell of blood any day.
All of a sudden I'm hungry. I get the .410 by the neck and heave it over on the back seat. I shove the box of shells away to get at the food and it's still warm on the tin plate. It's good and greasy and tastes of smoke. From the first swallow I get a hot charge.
And I drive like that, just under the limit, with a chop in one hand and the wheel in the other. Laughing hard enough to choke. For the first time in me life I know what I want and I have what it takes to get me there. If you never experienced that I feel sorry for you.
But it wasn't always like this. I been through fire to get here. I seen things and done things and had shit done to me you couldn't barely credit. So be happy for me. And for fucksake don't get in my way.
The day the old life ended I sat up under the grandstand nursing me bung eye and hating on old Wankbag till the sun went down. Mum always went crook when I called him that behind his back. Captain Wankbag. The Captain. Or just Cap for short. Said that was no way to talk about your father, but it was no odds to me. That bucket of dog sick was a bastard to both of us, I wished he was dead. And right then I was praying for it.
Me hands stunk of meat. I made fists of them, hard and flat as sawed beef shanks. I stared at them till there wasn't any light left to see them by but it didn't matter because in me throbbing head I could see a cleaver in one and a boner in the other, feel them there real as money. Sat gripping them imaginary things so long me arms cramped up and I had to come out in the night air before I keeled over again.
It was cooler in the open. Couldn't see nothing but the lights of town. Some blokes kicked a ball way down the other end in the dark, just voices and hard thumps that gimme the yips. I didn't know what to do, where to go. Had no money. Some ice would of been good. Like frozen water ice, I mean. For the eye that was half closed over. Fucking hell, it was like something growing out the side of me head.
The sky was blank, I seen more stars when he clocked me, and I started trying to figure the time.
Before this, back in the shop, I come to in the bone crate. Woke up arse over and half stupid in that slimy pile of shins and knuckles and chook frames, and for a sec I didn't know where I was or how I got there. But I copped on soon enough. Where was I? Work of course. And how did I end up poleaxed in a bin? The usual way, that's how. He wouldn't give you the sweat off his balls, the old Captain, but when it come to dishing out a bit of biff when you weren't looking, well, then he was like fucking Santa.
I heard the radio going out front. And that lemony detergent stink was in the air. So it had to be after close-up. And now he's having to wipe out the trays and slush the floor on his own, the dense prick. Bitches all afternoon about what a lazy bludger I am and then makes sure he can't get any work out of me when there's most to be doing. No wonder he's such a big success in business.
I looked out through me knees and tried to get to me feet, but Christ, that took some doing. Would of made a nice old picture, that. Jaxie Clackton, hardarse the kids run clear of all over the shire. Trying to spaz up out of that greasy nest of bones like a poisoned fly. Talk about laugh. But I done it in the end. Grabbed onto the bench. Pushed off the muck-specky wall. And stood there a mo with me head spinning. Probably gobbing and gawping like a goldfish. And all the time, just the other side of the partition, through the door and the skanky flystrips, the mop's slopping and the bucket's getting kicked across the floor, and he's wheezing and snorting and going on some mumblefuck about how bloody useless I am and how he's gunna flog some morals into me. And in me mind right then I was already gone. Up the street and shot through clean. But it's like I was doing everything half speed, pissing off in slow motion. And any second he's gunna come through the door and get me by the ear and give me a couple more to be going on with. So I told meself to harden up and get a wriggle on, to get me apron undone and kick off them stupid butcher boots. Not real easy, any of that, not with a woozy head and sausage fingers. But I got them off and grabbed me Vans and the skateboard by the back door and sleazed away quiet.
Outside the air was warm and the day nearly done. I peered up the street through the shadows and just to squint that tiniest bit hurt to the living fuck. When I touched me face it felt like a punkin full of razor blades. And I shoulda been relieved I was out and away but I had nowhere to go. All I wanted was a bag of peas on me face and a bed to lay on. But it wouldn't be safe to go home till Wankbag was fully rummed up. Which took some doing. He was pissed all day at work, that was just him regular. Getting himself totally off his tits, that was a few hours' hard relaxing. After a shit and maybe a shower. Rip his eye patch off and just sit there in his jocks. His empty socket sucked into a cat's-arse squint. Grab a two-litre bottle of Coke from the fridge, tip half down the sink and fill it back up with Bundaberg rum.
No point me going home till he got his medicine down. He'd stagger round a bit. Park himself here and there. In the shed. Or out the patio looking at the paddocks and the train tracks. Mostly he ended up in that big rocking TV chair passed out blind, lights on, curtains open. Snoring hard enough to rattle the glass. Made it simple to figure when to make your move. Pull up outside in the dark street. Suss him through the window. Watch to see he's out properly. Then go in the back way. Take your chance in the kitchen. And get to your bedroom fast. Lock the door. Shove the desk in front. And let him sleep it off. Tomorrow'll be a new day. Which is really the same miserable fucking day all over again. Till then there's nowhere to go but the footy oval. That's why I was up there, hiding like a girl. The roadhouse was iffy and the pub was plain trouble so I had to hole up under the grandstand. That was it. And that's what I done. I took a breath of air and snuck back up under the joists where it was all chip boxes and old frangers and Beam cans.
I waited past dark and then a few hours more. I didn't dare look at me phone to check the time or see if there was messages, the light's a dead giveaway, you don't make that mistake twice. So there was nothing else to do but hang on and guts it out.
In me mind I saw him going drink for drink with himself, like he was in some kind of dipshit competition to get written off faster than anyone else in town. Sid Clackton, Bundy rum champion of the world. Captain Wankbag, master butcher, roadkill specialist, drunker than any man alive. Monkton's finest, what a mighty hero! I imagined the slobby prick frying himself a pan of bangers and yelling at the telly. Look at this fuckwit, shut your mouth, who's this ugly moll, this is bullshit. On and on. You didn't even have to be there to hear it. And I thought if only it could all be poison. The rum, the beer, the meat, the bloody air he snorted. If only he could fucking die and leave me be. If there's a God out there why can't he do the righty for a change and kill this cunt off once and for all. Because all a person wants is feeling safe. Peace, that's all I'm after.
Well that's what I told meself. But that idea got old. Pretty soon what I really wanted was a few bangers of me own. Fucking peace could wait. I was hungry as a shark. And now I thought about it I didn't want to still be out there at closing time when half the front bar spilled into the park for more. I sure as hell didn't want to get into it with any goon-drinking darkies or the apprentices from the John Deere. I had no fight left in me, so I figured enough was enough.
I come out from under the old wood grandstand and listened for anyone out there on the oval. But it was quiet. So I stuck the skateboard under me arm and snuck across to the trees round the boundary and stayed under them till there was a streetlight and some bitumen. Then I rolled home the back way.
* * *
It was all pretty chill up our street. A couple of windows with tellies flashing in them but nobody outside that I could see, no porch-smoking Paxtons, no Mrs Mahood standing there with the hose the way she does all day.
Our place was dark mostly but I could see light spilling out from the open doors of the shed and I heard the radio going. And I stood there a sec on the drive where the light didn't reach and tried to steel up for it, figuring better to go in now than have him come and find me standing in front of the fridge. It's always best to be ready.
I headed for the shed and then I stopped. And I dunno why really. Just peered inside. All I saw was his ute. That shelf against the back wall piled with camping gear. The big globe hanging off the truss with a few moths clattering about it. I thought maybe he was in there tapping a drum of homebrew. But it was a weeknight. And whenever he pulled the pin on a batch the whole street give off the sour reek of beer and he got suddenly popular. It sure as hell wouldn't be this quiet. Even if it was only him and the copper drinking it, they'd fill the place with all their bloke noise, ya-ya-ya, mate, yeah fark orf, and there wouldn't be that meaty smell I was whiffing right now. I knew he still took sly beef from blokes passing through and he had a chiller room off the side to keep it all clear of the shop, but the doors were wide open and he wasn't so thick he'd leave it like this, not even if he was expecting someone. And there was something funny about his ute parked in the shed. From out on the drive I could see the Hilux was way too high in the arse, like the tray was all angled up.
I flipped the board a couple of times and let it fall to the cement to show him I was there. I guess I could of called out something or coughed the way people do but he'd of heard me already. For sure. If he was in there, that is. Odds were he was waiting, foxing, messing with me. Like it's his fucking hobby, giving a dude a nervous breakdown.
So I went in careful, with the deck of the board like a shield in front.
And I thought, I'm not seeing right. Because of the swollen eye.
Maybe that's why I didn't cop on straight away. Because the front wheels of the Hilux were fully off. Both of them was laying flat on the floor, one against the other. The nuts in a pile next to the wheelbrace.
And the hubs. Fuck me, the bare hubs were down hard on the concrete. And the ute was casting a shadow that no light was ever gunna make. A shadow doesn't search for a drain like that. Shadows don't have blowflies drowning in them. But I spose for two seconds I let meself think it was just oil. Like he'd dropped the bung out of the sump, too pissed to remember to slide a drain pan under it. From the corner of me good eye I could see the half-empty bottle on the bench. No bubbles left in the Coke. Something sucking at the open neck, a wasp maybe.
But I still didn't really know what I was looking at. Until I crept up past the driver's-side door and peeped over the bonnet and saw his hairy legs and his bare feet stuck out from under the roo bar.
I dropped the skateboard and it scooted away and hit something with a clang and then I saw the high-lift slumped away from the vehicle. It was laying across rags and a tarry puddle on the cement. I saw tracks where some lizard run through the mess on his way out the door. And then it was plain as dog's balls. I didn't even get down on me knees and check. Maybe I should of to make sure and take some satisfaction from it, but I already knew the old turd was cactus. And it's not as if I was crying any tears but it knocked me. I had to lean against the Hilux to keep meself up.
Me head was everywhere and nowhere. I mean, Jesus. But after a bit I started having proper thoughts. Like, the doors are wide open. And by eight in the morning the Cap won't be at the shop and by nine someone's gunna want to know why they can't get a porterhouse and the bag of snags they ordered. I sure as hell wasn't stopping round to have half the town point the finger at me, saying I come in and caught him when I finally had the jump on him. People knew I had good reason, it was no secret in Monkton how he was and what he done to us. They'll say I kicked the jack out from under the roo bar and crushed his head like a pig melon. It all points to me.
So I turned round and walked out real careful not to step in anything. Left everything like it was. The radio going with some angry old prick barking stuff meant nothing to me. The lights blazing away.
I went straight for the house up the side path. But I had to stop for a sec. Near the gas bottles. Yacked all over me Vans. Puke the colour of mustard it was. I just kicked them shoes off and kept going.
Dark in the house. I found the switch in the kitchen and when the fridge kicked in I jumped. Christ, the state I was in.
Went into me room, took down me pack from the wardrobe. Looked at the swag but knew it was too big to carry. Pulled hunting clobber from the wardrobe, the camo pants and jacket. Nearly tripped and fell getting the dacks on, I was in such a hurry. Took the pack to the kitchen and filled it with tins and packets and stuff from the fridge. Took the stove lighter. Three boxes of matches. Wrapped it all in tea towels to keep it from clanking.
The big bedroom stunk of him but it still hadn't quite give up the smell of Mum. Stood in there a mo just looking. Then I got the key that was hid up behind the doorframe. Unlocked the gun safe with it, took out the .243 and two boxes of shells, Winchester 80 grain soft points. Took the binocs as well.
Halfway down the hall I turned round and went in the bathroom. Snatched a bog roll and forgot the toothbrush.
Out in the laundry I found me steelcap boots and yanked them on. Hanging off the trough was his blue singlet, Y-fronts, a striped apron stiff with fat and blood. Just stared at them while I laced me feet in. Like those stinking rags might leap at me on their own, even now.
Then on the washing machine I saw the water bottle he took to work every day. A five-litre Igloo. Figured I'd be needing it. Filled it from the tank outside and tried not to think of his filthy mouth on the spout. I knew there was a coupla camelpacks out in the shed. One of them'd be ten times better than lugging a jug, but I wasn't going back in there for love or money. Which was a big fucking mistake, I'll give you the tip, bigger than the toothbrush and it cost me hard the next few weeks. But I topped the Igloo up and the brass tap give a yelp when I shut it off and when I was done I walked round the side of the house, stood under the big old flame tree a minute, getting me breath and me wits, and a roadtrain come by, taking the back way to the servo, hissing and jerking to keep his speed down, all lit up like a ship and reeking of wool on the hoof, and once he was gone I took a good look round, stepped out into the empty street and walked fast as I could.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "The Shepherd's Hut"
Copyright © 2018 Tim Winton.
Excerpted by permission of Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Also by Tim Winton,
A Note About the Author,
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Jaxie Clackton, our fifteen-year-old narrator, speaks directly to the reader in his distinctive Aussie voice, full or vernacular and swearing. His dad gets drunk and beats him up, to the extent that Jaxie wishes him dead. “All a person wants is feeling safe. Peace, that’s all I’m after.” And then one day a freak accident kills his dad. Jaxie thinks he might get blamed and, with barely any supplies, sets off from Monkton, Western Australia, heading north to Magnet to meet his cousin Lee, the only person he loves and trusts. During the trip, he reminisces, and we find out that his dad abandoned them when his mum was dying of cancer, which should have been a relief but was somehow worse. “No one should have to watch their mum die on their own.” Because of his dad, he was the laughing stock of the school and fought back, earning a reputation as well as detention. He remembers the good times, camping out with his mum and dad, fossicking for gold. He recalls the terrain from when he went hunting for goats and kangaroos with his dad. And he tells us how he spent time in his dad’s butcher shop learning the trade. All of this serves to explain how Jaxie comes to have the skills he needs to survive in the harsh landscape on his own. A string of good luck leads Jaxie to find a place to stay and a means of preserving his kill. “So don’t ever feel sorry for Jaxie Clackton. Because I’m one lucky bastard, I kid you not.” Then, after spending some time on his own, Jaxie comes across Fintan MacGillis, an old man holed up in a derelict shepherd’s hut, hiding from his past. Fintan convinces Jaxie to stay for a while. But soon Jaxie starts feeling trapped, like one of Fintan’s goats, which leads to him making a disastrous decision. Initially, the book is hard to read because of all the colloquialisms and poor grammar used by our narrator. But, with the whole first part being a monologue, you soon get used to it. There are times when Jaxie tends to lose his voice, with inconsistencies in the use of me/my and meself/myself being the most obvious. There is no dialogue until the second part of the book - when Jaxie meets Fintan - and then it’s sometimes difficult to read because of the lack of quotation marks. There are also some pretty foul descriptions and images, making this a book that might appeal to young blokes around Jaxie’s age. The story begins in the present and shifts to the past, slowly letting us know how Jaxie comes to be where he is now. At the end, we end up right back to where we started. Along the way, Jaxie drops hints about what is to come, a trick that keeps us reading to find out how things eventuate. This is an extraordinary feat of writing, mainly because there isn’t much plot. The book is more a character study of Jaxie’s journey into manhood, his coming of age story. His father wasn’t a good role model, but we see how Jaxie changes after meeting Fintan, a good man who has a positive effect on his life. Fintan is an intriguing character who always remains a mystery. And let’s not forget the harsh Aussie landscape, which is a character in its own right. A moving coming of age story. Warnings: coarse language, sexual references, violence. I got this book on loan from the library. Full blog post (1 April): https://www.booksdirectonline.com/2019/04/the-shepherds-hut-by-tim-winton.html
The Shepherd's Hut by Tim Winton is a highly recommended novel that is emotional, disturbing, and brutal but eloquently written. Jaxie Clackton, 15, a physically and emotionally abused young man flees the small town where he lives after seeing his father’s accidental death. Jaxie takes a small amount of food, a rifle and a water jug and then starts out on foot through the back county of Western Australia, setting a course toward where his cousin Lee lives. He loves her and thinks they can escape somewhere together after he hides out for a while. After hiking for days, starving and thirsty, he comes to an abandoned cabin where he takes shelter. When exploring one day, hoping for water, he sees a shepherd's hut and meets exiled priest Fintan MacGillis. Jaxie must decide if he can trust MacGillis. The two eventually forge an unlikely bond until Jaxie discovers something nearby that could threaten the safety of both of them. This is Jaxie's first person account and Winton writes in Jaxie's vernacular, slang and all which might throw some readers for a loop. Most of the words you will be able to figure out through the usage. As he talks about his father's cruelty and the beatings and then his acting out, your heart will break - and then you'll wonder why the neighbors in the small town didn't take action. It will physically hurt when he talks about his mom, who passed away from cancer, and her not leaving her husband despite the beatings... and Jaxie puzzles out why she stayed. Jaxie thinks he is tough, has acted out, because he's had to be tough. Winton's ability to portray Jaxie and MacGillis is absolutely amazing. The writing is impressive and eloquent. The story is troubling, full of pain and suffering. This is a story of damaged people respecting each other's secrets and trying to form a very unlikely friendship. For those who need to know, there is blood. There is catching and butchering animals. There is swearing and bad grammar as this is Jaxie's voice. These are two social outcasts working together. It is the story of a boy becoming a man. Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
I chose to read this book because Tim Winton is described as "Australia’s most decorated and beloved novelist" and I had never heard of him. So I had to see what I was missing! The plot sounded like it would be interesting since it was set in Australia's outback and I've always found Australia to be such an interesting country. The first few chapters were raw and brutal. Jaxie Clackton's mother is dead and his father, who has abused Jaxie all his life, dies a violent death. Jaxie runs from home thinking he will be blamed for his father's death. All he takes with him are a water jug and a rifle as he sets out walking through the Australian wilderness to the only person who has ever understood him, his cousin Lee. During his lonely journey he discovers a priest in exile, Finton McGinnis. Jaxie doesn't know what the priest did or whether he can trust him, but they strike up an uneasy friendship and Jaxie stays with him awhile. The story of this strange friendship and what is occurring in the salt lands is central to this story. There were many Australian slang words and phrases I didn't recognize and had to look them up, but I found the local language and scenery fascinating. The writing is at times fierce and at times lyrical - very intriguing. I may look for other books by Tim Winton since I liked the book and because of his reputation. Thanks to Tim Winton and Farrar, Straus and Giroux through Netgalley for an advance copy of this book.