Billed as a landscape memoir, you’d be forgiven for seeing this as an accompanying piece to Winton’s coastal memoir Land’s Edge. And there are a lot of similarities. Both evoke the Australian environment in beautiful prose and with the trademark descriptive skills that have made Winton such a superstar in his homeland. The main difference between the two, though, probably lies in the fact that while Land’s Edge was a story about Winton’s life as much as it was an environmental epic, Island Home seems to veer much more towards the latter. Most chapters will start with a bit of a context from a time in Winton’s life, but eventually they’ll veer off to focus solely on concerns about climate change or stories about early eco warriors.
This isn’t necessarily a problem, depending on your interests and why you’ve come to the work in the first place. But it could alienate some sections of its potential readership. A book that focuses so intensely on descriptions of landscape and considerations of how it is changing won’t be for everybody, no matter how beautifully it’s written.
It says something that, to this reviewer, the book really came alive when Winton was discussing his literary influences. The section in which he discusses how Flannery O’Connor’s sense of place inspired, and allowed, him to stick to his guns in a difficult publishing industry was fascinating. And as he builds up a picture of how the land that surrounded him forced its way into his writing, it’s hard not to be enthralled. There’s also a fascinating section towards the end which considers the plight of the aboriginal people, particularly focusing on Winton’s friendship with a man called Chapman. This is Winton at his very best.
Any Cop?: Despite the sections that don’t completely captivate, there’s a lot to enjoy in Island Home. Even if you just indulge yourself in a couple of hours of excellent sentences, you’ll be in for a treat. And, if we’re honest, Winton has earnt the right to spend some time preaching to us on his favourite subject. Especially when he’s completely correct in all he says. But if you’re coming to this hoping for more information about his life and his writing, you’ll still find it. It’s just a little buried under the rocks and rubble.