“And I wonder what the sound of a heart breaking might be. And I think it might be quiet, unperceptively so, and not dramatic at all. Like the sound of an exhausted swallow falling gently to earth.”―
I loved the review of Tin Man on Sanchie’s blog and when Parul asked me for which books I have been wishing for, this was right there on the list. And I am grateful to both of them for leading me to this gorgeously written book. Fair warning, if you are embarrassed to cry in public, don’t read it in public 🙂
Title: Tin Man
Genre: Fiction / Love story / LGBTQ
Author: Sarah Winman
A British actress and writer, Sarah Winman won the New Writer of the Year in the Galaxy National Book Awards for her 2011 debut novel When God was a Rabbit, among several other awards.
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Our story begins the day Dora Judd chooses to openly defy her overbearing husband. She wins the local raffle and opts not for the bottle of whisky but a copy of the 15 sunflowers as painted by Van Gogh. And when he throws a tantrum at home, she swears to kill him if he touches the painting. She doesn’t know what is it about this painting but it becomes her anchor, her lodestar and she often just stands in front of it to comfort herself.
The story moves forward when 12 year old Michael comes to live with his grandmother Mabel, armed with a suitcase full of books. He and Ellis (Dora’s son) form a close friendship in those head free days of 1960s, cycling through the town and marking the spots as their own. Mabel and Dora watched over the boys, almost nudging them to explore their friendship without the cumbersome expectations of how boys should behave.
Ellis was always sketching and Michael became his favorite muse after his mother and he filled in sketchbook after sketchbook of him. Michael grows to hero-worship Dora who calmly takes him under her wing, even encourages him to call her Dora.
When Dora learns of her illness, she makes Ellis promise that he would continue his education and never give up his art. Its Michael and Mabel who now shelter Ellis from his father’s wrath as he yearns to keep the promise he made to his mother. But Mabel convinces him to make peace with him and do as he says.
“I haven’t cried. But sometimes I feel as if my veins are leaking, as if my body is overwhelmed, as if I’m drowning from the inside.”― Tin Man
That’s how Ellis ends up at the car factory production line as a denter/painter. Its at this junction that our story really starts out as a 46 year old Ellis chokes up at the memory of a loss he has refused to name. When his stepmother hands him a box of Michael’s old things, its only then he acknowledges his pain.
After their brief but passionate affair, Ellis falls in love with Annie and marries her. He is supported fully by Michael in this decision and the three of them become inseparable. Michael moves away for a while but returns when Mabel dies. Annie is happy to have him back and they both are forever doing things to stay busy. Everything is going great till the accident that turns Ellis’s world upside down. They are both dead but the shock was that Michael had AIDS, something he kept from them.
I won’t talk about Michael’s story to avoid spoilers and will beg you to just read the book now.
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Lasting Impression on me:
The book is set in two narratives with Ellis leading the first one while Michael brings up the rear. Michael’s narration is short and sweet but is essential to bring the closure one was seeking in this story. I loved the holiday he embarks in France. The author’s description of his experiences there are just stunning, especially the field of sunflowers.
Ellis comes across as strong and brave but in reality he is suffering as much as Michael. Even though he chooses to marry Annie, he doesn’t really let go of Michael. Latter’s absence from their life only throws his importance into a sharp relief-something Ellis can’t speak about at all.
The underlying theme of alternate lives is one that is in the hearts of most of us. When the two 19 year olds decided to simply stay back in France and continue their affair, my heart throbbed with love. I could feel every inch of Michael’s trepidation and anticipation of this decision.
The writer is brilliant in bringing out the human emotions in great clarity. I loved how every word, every sentence made me feel the pain, loss and regret of the characters. How beautiful is Annie in her acceptance of the trio that they have become. Her understanding of their relationship is heart breaking.
Every character is heartfelt. Dora is such a sunshine woman who keeps the light on in both Michael and Ellis, despite her hardships. Mabel is every practical and sturdy in the face of everything life throws at her. Michael’s devotion to Dora and her reciprocation to it, is just so beautiful. I wept and ached all over while reading this book and am hooked onto Sarah Winman’s writing. I simply have to get hold of more of her published works.
Dont be surprised for its an unequivocal 5 star rating. It just couldn’t be anything else as I have become a real fan of the Tin Man and would recommend everyone to please read this brilliantly crafted book. This is the best read of 2019 for me!!!
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