Recently I set a goal for myself to read all of Tim Winton’s novels this year; and so I began January with An Open Swimmer, his debut novel, first published in 1982.
Jerra is a young man on the cusp of stepping out and beginning his own life, but he has some inner demons to deal with first. It seems like he will keep self sabotaging until he succeeds. In the beginning of the story, he is on a camping trip with his boyhood best mate, Sean, when they come across a mysterious old man living in a secluded shack by the beach.
There seems to be something in common between Jerra and the old man, and maybe that’s why he seeks him out again, on his own, a while after his trip with Sean is over and they’ve drifted apart. It’s a bit hard to tell though because reading this book feels somewhat like eavesdropping on an intriguing conversation in a noisy cafe – you catch snippets of Jerra’s mind and soul, his past and present, but you have to fill in the rest yourself. What was that ‘thing’ between him and Sean’s mum? And does anyone else know about it?
The way Winton weaves together words to evoke images and sounds of the wild and stunning natural environment on Western Australia’s coastline is probably my favourite part of his writing. I spent some time reading this book on the beach too, which made it feel even more real.
I would say this was a novel that intrigued me more so than a novel I really enjoyed, and it comes across as the work of someone much more experienced in the craft of writing. I’m very much looking forward to reading more Tim Winton this year.