Dilettante's Diary

OCTOBER 2021

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Two Novels by BARBARA PYM
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MOVIES
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Reviewed here: Tin Man (Novel) by Sarah Winman

Tin Man (Novel) by Sarah Winman, 2017

When I ordered this book, I didn't realize that Sarah Winman was also the author of "When God Was a Rabbit." Although that book had some lovely qualities, I didn't like it much as a whole. Parts of it were a little too cutesy, too "twee" for me, and a lot of the comedy was far fetched. I ended my review by expressing the wish that Ms. Winman would turn her talents to a more subtle, more poignant story.

Well, we'll never know whether or not she heard my advice, but she certainly has produced the kind of book I was hoping for.

"Tin Man" tells the story of three people, mainly: a married man (Ellis) and woman (Annie) and a close male friend of theirs (Michael). At the outset of the story, we learn that Annie and the Michael have died, possibly under mysterious circumstances. So it's Ellis, a widower now, who is telling us most of the tale in his own voice. However, there's a large chunk of the story that comes in the voice of the deceased male friend, Michael. That's because the Ellis happens to find a cache of notes that Michael had made about his relationship with the couple. Those notes are presented as Michael's speaking directly to us.

It's hard to convey the impact of this book with out saying more about the ways that bind these three characters together. But to do that would betray the author's narrative intentions. Best to let the reader find out gradually what's going on.

Most of the story takes place in and around Oxford. There are picnics, bicycle riding, fields, swimming, domesticity, jobs -- the ordinary, humdrum infused with a particular poignancy. One idyllic section, from earlier years, takes place in the South of France.

One of the things that I like most about the book is that the characterizations are nuanced. For instance, Ellis' dad was something of a boor when Ellis was growing up. Ellis wanted to be an artist but the dad insisted that he learn a trade that would be of use in the town's thriving automobile industry. So Ellis acquired a knack for working with metal in such a way that he became an expert on repairing dents in the bodies of cars. (Hence the book's title.) Later in life, though, we find that the dad, while still something of a rough-hewn character, does make some attempt at a rapprochement with Ellis, some attempt to understand and appreciate his son. And the dad's current girlfriend, a woman who might be dismissed as a bit tarty, something of a floozie, has genuine sympathy and affection for Ellis.

This book is an aching tale of life's joys and sorrows. It's about the things that could be and those that could not be. About the great joys, the great gains, the sorrows and the losses. One of those rare books that makes you appreciate what life is about in a new way.

You can respond to: patrick@dilettantesdiary.com