“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.”
Tin Man, by Sarah Winman, is a hauntingly, achingly beautiful story of friendship and love. It opens with a night out at a community hall in 1950 when young mother-to-be, Dora Judd, wins a painting of sunflowers in a raffle, her first ever act of defiance. The timeline then moves to 1996 when Ellis Judd is living alone in a house that has stood still in time for several years. He works nights at a car plant in Oxford. He is struggling to survive.
Ellis’s life, like most people’s, has had its ups and downs. He once had a best friend, Michael, and a wife, Annie. He dreamt of being an artist until his father got him an apprenticeship at the local factory, a potential job for life. Ellis is good at this job where he is accepted and respected. He understands that he has made choices and must somehow learn to live with their consequences.
The story takes the reader back through Ellis’s memories: of his beautiful and loving mother; his distant, angry father; and to Michael, his charismatic friend. Michael came to live with Mabel, his grandmother, when he was twelve years old. Both boys were made welcome in Mabel and Dora’s homes, treated as if their own.
Michael was the exuberant, risk taker in the friendship but it was Ellis who enabled him to shine. When Annie arrives on the scene she is determined not to come between these two young men. The weight of life’s continuing experiences increasingly stunts all of their abilities to fly.
Following on from the short prologue, the book is written in two parts telling the story of Ellis and then of Michael with intersections offering depth to each other’s tales. The language throughout is artistry in prose. The imagery feels so rich it is almost decadent. The grief is raw and heart-rending to read.
The author has woven a love story that is intensely moving yet avoids all the cliches and banality typical of the genre. It does nothing for effect even though deeply affecting. Despite presenting each life lived with a stark actuality, this is a tale oozing colour and possibility.
I have read many excellent books this year but have no hesitation in saying if you buy only one then let it be this. A glorious, heartfelt read.
“I look at these young men, not in envy but in wonder. It is for them now, the beauty of discovery, that endless moonscape of life unfolding.”
My copy of this book was provided gratis by the publisher, Tinder Press.