Cloudstreet by Tim Winton

The mystery of the missing plot…

😐 😐

Having been left a rambling, dilapidated old house on Cloud Street and being badly in need of money, Sam Pickles divides the house and rents the other half to the Lamb family. So the two families live side by side and…

And what? They simply live side by side. And Winton drifts through the dividing walls, dipping into the lives of one family and then into the lives of the other family. There is no plot, no story arc, no real character development. In fact, at least half of the characters have no character at all to develop – they are simply names. I’m afraid I found it empty, as if the blank paper underneath had seeped up through the words printed on it.

Clearly I’m missing something. The book is an Australian classic, admired by hordes of people. Maybe you have to be Australian to “get” it? I know I sometimes feel a book is too Scottish to easily recommend to non-Scots. Maybe recognition of the places or the slang gives enough pleasure to make up for the lack of a story? I admit there were whole passages where I wasn’t sure what was happening because some of the words conveyed no meaning to me, and weren’t in the Kindle dictionary. I could have googled each time, but I learned how tedious that was with another book full of dialect and slang, and swore I’d never do it again. So my laziness as a reader is definitely a part of the reason this didn’t work for me.

Oddly the first couple of chapters, where we’re introduced first to the Pickles and then to the Lambs, are wonderful – a lot conveyed in very few words, and I actually felt the characters were more clearly evoked then than later – they seemed to fade or recede as the book went on. Also, each family had the beginnings of an interesting story – Sam Pickles being injured in an accident at work that left him a ‘crip’ with a ‘crook’ hand; Fish Lamb nearly drowning in a different accident and his return to life being seen by his family as some kind of miracle. But then it all collapses into the mundane details of daily life.

Tim Winton

Reviews rave about the descriptions of the Australian landscape. That must come later (I’m abandoning it at 21%) because we haven’t moved out of the house since the moment the families moved in. All the conversations take place round one or another of the tables of the families, where they talk, without quotation marks obviously because that would be too easy, about nothing. We hear about Sam’s new job because he tells us about it – we don’t get to go with him. Same applies to Lester Lamb and his band practice – we’re left at home as he leaves the house to go out for a bit of fun. I began to feel as if I were imprisoned in the house, desperate just to go for a simple walk round the neighbourhood or a bus-ride into town.

So I’ve given up. I’m reluctant to one-star it as I usually do with abandoned books because I suspect it’s mostly a case of mismatch between reader and book, and I did enjoy those first couple of chapters. But it took me three weeks to read as far as I did, and it was inducing a major reading slump since increasingly I couldn’t face picking it up. Sorry to everyone who loves it, and my apologies to Australia!

Book 9 of 12

This was The People’s Choice winner for September, so apologies to You, the People, too! Onwards and upwards – hopefully I’ll get on better with October’s choice…

Amazon UK Link

47 thoughts on “Cloudstreet by Tim Winton

    • I did like his writing but I never get on with books that don’t have a strong plot – I can see why he works for other people though. Hopefully you’ll be one of them!


    • Maybe the characterisation develops as it goes along. Certainly lots of reviews praise the characterisation so maybe it was just me. I don’t know – sometimes a book just doesn’t work for a particular reader – oh, well!


  1. Oh, that is a shame you didn’t like this one better, FictionFan. It’s one of those ‘classics’ as you say, and the premise does sound interesting. But if you’re almost a quarter of the way through the book and the plot and characters haven’t drawn you in yet, then the book’s not working. The older I get, the more often I do that – simply stop reading when I’m not drawn in. Life’s too short.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m much more likely to abandon a book than struggle on with it too these days. If a book doesn’t grab me in the first quarter experience tells me it’s unlikely to do it later on. A pity though – I had high hopes for this one!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. It’s been a decade since I read it, but I remember enjoying it. That said, I had to look back at my review to remember WHY I enjoyed it. As we discussed at my book club last night, there’s nothing wrong with not liking a book that others do, so brush it off and move on!

    Liked by 1 person

    • For some reason I always feel worse when it’s a People’s Choice I’m abandoning – I take my responsibilities to the People seriously… 😉 I can quite see why people would enjoy this one, since I know a lot of people don’t feel the need for a strong plot, but sadly I do… 😥

      Liked by 1 person

    • Haha, I really must find some books I enjoy soon, though! 😉 Don’t let me put you off this one, though – I always struggle when a book doesn’t have a strong plot, but most people seem to have loved this.

      Liked by 1 person

    • This was my first too and I wouldn’t be averse to trying another, though I’d need to be sure it had more of a plot than this one. But I know loads of people don’t feel as much need for a strong plot, and I can quite see that they might enjoy this much more than I did. So don’t let me put you off!

      Liked by 1 person

    • Yes, it’s always a pity though, and I had high hopes for this one, but ’twasn’t to be! I’ve only heard of him from Aussie bloggers, so I’m not sure how much he gets read in the rest of the world. It’s a bit like authors who use a lot of Scottish dialect – fun for us Scots but it must limit their appeal elsewhere.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Oh dear, I’m glad you abandoned it! I loved your line: “I’m afraid I found it empty, as if the blank paper underneath had seeped up through the words printed on it.” I do think you should compile of list of some of your most insightful (and often funny) quips!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I gave up on this on my first attempt – didn’t even get as far as you did! But gave it a second try and found I enjoyed it. I suspect it’s meant to be a depiction of the Australian way of life with the two families representing different attitudes. It was a bit too long though

    Liked by 1 person

    • That’s interesting. I rarely return to a book that doesn’t work for me first time round, but maybe I’ll keep this one on my Kindle and try it again sometime. I really do prefer a book with a distinct plot though, however good the writing or observations.


  5. Oh no, what a shame. I haven’t read this one but I’ve heard good things about Winton. I always feel the same way you did when a highly lauded book doesn’t measure up for me. I’m always thinking…’what am I missing here? I must be missing SOMETHING’? Right?

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I find Winton hit or miss myself, which might make me un-Australian! But Cloudstreet was one I enjoyed (although it’s 20 yrs since I last read it and I read it whilst holidaying in Perth, which always helps).

    I guess you could say that Winton is part of the modernist school of writing – interiority, the impacts of class/capitalism on individuals, sense of isolation, free-flowing etc which isn’t to everyone’s tastes. I’m getting a big hit of that style atm with Patrick White and Voss, where the environment is almost like another character in the story (like the house in Cloudstreet).

    If it’s alright with you, I’d like to add this post to my AusReading Month links, but if you’d rather not, that’s fine too.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes, of course, please do! I wish I’d had a more enthusiastic contribution to make though!

      I think mostly my problem with it was down to my preference for a strong plot. I never really enjoy a book that’s describing a society or way of life without having a plot to keep me turning the pages. That, and my surprise at how much of the language I was struggling with. I mean, I watched Neighbours for years – I thought I was fluent in Australian… 😉

      Liked by 1 person

Please leave a comment - I'd love to know who's visiting and what you think...of the post, of the book, of the blog, of life, of chocolate...

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.