Rescue hut

tim wintonReview by Nick Mattiske

Book | The Shepherd’s Hut | Tim Winton

In Tim Winton’s fiction, reconciliation, sacrifice, redemption and the like work themselves out in the lives of society’s fringe-dwellers – those not usually thought of as upright, moral citizens.

In Winton’s latest novel, The Shepherd’s Hut, main character and narrator Jaxie is a teenage ‘delinquent’ from the wrong side of the tracks (literally – he lives by the railroad tracks – some heavy symbolism in a book full of it).

His mother has died from cancer and Jaxie has left school, mainly because of making himself into an obvious nuisance. When his abusive father accidentally kills himself, Jaxie takes it as an opportunity to finally escape. He leaves his one-horse Western Australian town, heading bush like an Aussie Huck Finn.

Jaxie is not the churchy type; Winton lets us know he finds it all ‘mumbo-jumbo’. However, his desperate longing is a type of prayer; he has a home-grown, crude morality, and his story echoes the biblical flights of Jacob and David, whose obvious external deficiencies hide divine purpose. God often works through those on the edge, and although Jaxie scoffs at the idea of someone being an ‘instrument of God’, later he is told explicitly that he is just that.

Winton captures an authentic voice, with its rough-as-guts vernacular (enough to make an outback trucker pause). Jaxie is disenchanted  and wary of the human world, but comfortable with surviving in the bush, where a stripping back to basics also brings one closer to the divine.

Jaxie’s meeting with the occupant of the hut in the book’s title and the Wild West climax are, again, heavy with symbolism, but they allow Winton to show how gospel values might appear in outcasts and ne’er-do-wells, those who in the Gospels are the recipients of the Kingdom of God.

Published by Penguin Books Australia

RRP: $39.99

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