Tuesday, 28 May 2013

Book Review: Tinkers

Title: Tinkers
Author: Paul Harding
Year Published: 2009
Genre: General and literary fiction, Contemporary fiction, Drama

Paul Harding's Tinkers is an interesting work. The plot, as it is, concerns an old man who begins to hallucinate eight days before he dies. Through an odd, dream-like lens, the novel reveals snatched glimpses of his life, his father's life and his grandfather's life. It's a strange and stunning experience from beginning to end.

Harding's use of language is masterful and evocative, descriptive yet lean at the same time. As you read about George's childhood with his travelling salesman father Howard, and Howard's childhood in turn, you really feel the stark isolation of life in early 20th century New England. You also sympathise with George as he lies in his living room with his family, waiting for death, and you can also believe that Howard experiences his epileptic seizures as episodes of the divine. As in memories and dreams, things are at once hazy and clear and logical and not. Simply put, Tinkers contains some of the best writing I've read in a long time.

The book shifts back and forth between different points of view, different tenses, different stories and different times. The author uses no quotation marks, which further blurs the line between thought, dialogue, hallucination and narration. Sometimes, the prose erupts into stream-of-consciousness mode, resulting in sentences so long they leave you breathless. At other times, passages are interrupted mid-story to make way for fictional extracts from The Reasonable Horologist and another, unknown work. This can all be quite maddening. If the thought of reading something “literary” makes you shudder, then this is most definitely not the book for you. Indeed, the way it's written feels almost like Harding's thrown in the whole Eng Lit bag of tricks. On its face, the narrative is just a bunch of events, told in no apparent order, with no apparent connection (other than the familial connection of the characters), and no apparent conclusion. It seems deliberately confusing and gives the impression of being one of those books where the author is just showing you how much smarter and deeper s/he is than you are or ever will be, you pleb, you.

Ultimately, I was moved by the book's characters – you really do become immersed in their lives – and I marvelled at Harding's ability to craft finely captured “moments” in almost every scene. The writing truly demands to be noticed; it is beautiful in a strangely refreshing way and reading it was like being dipped into a clear, still pool of water. Everything is so well done that I couldn't help but like Tinkers, and yet, at the same time, it was so stylised and so aggressively ~literary~ that I almost hated it. Just as well it's a short read – any longer and admiration could have easily turned to disdain.

Alex's Rating: 4/5

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