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Leaving his perch

04 July 2014

Fiona Hook enjoys a novel about failing to stay uninvolved


THE eyrie of the title is the Mirador, a run-down block of flats in Fremantle, where an out-of-work environmental campaigner, Tom Keeley, perches, hidingfrom the world, and filling his empty days with drink and pills.

But he's not entirely an island. Along the corridor, he bumps into Gemma, someone his family used to look after whenever her own became too violent. She now looks after her six-year-old grandson, and the genetic urge to help - his wonderfully portrayed mother is a social worker turned human-rights lawyer - finds him first babysitting, then pulled into a new world of petty criminality and violence, as he tries to frighten off Gemma's persecutors.

This is a book to appreciate on a vast number of levels. It's about the way we try and fail, in our own eyes, to live up to our parents, and the possibility of finding salvation in helping others. Winton makes his character deeply sympathetic in his fallibility, and catches unerringlyhis different voices, from the dryly witty polysyllabic interior monologues to the different dialects he uses for talking to his mother, Gemma, and the child. The story races along. It's also very funny. Moreover, he leaves you guessing at the end whether Tom will save himself, or whether his habit of waking up on the pavement will ultimately prove fatal.

The descriptions are almost the book's finest feature. Fremantle's heat, noise, and smells rise before your inner senses. And he captures superbly well the music-lover's sheer visceral joy of being at a great performance:

". . . All this wild fingering, he felt it could come apart at any moment, yet he was swept up in it, fraught and amazed by the soloist's reckless brio as she began, sally by wheeling sally, to win first the stage, then the auditorium and finally the piece itself. . . She was nailing it. Surfing it. Riding the storm into the aisles, past their greying heads and through the bars and braces of their ribs, skating home on the glory of having dared and won."

Eyrie, too, makes you want to stand up and applaud.

Fiona Hook is a writer and EFL teacher.

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