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Cloudstreet is a 1991 novel by Australian writer Tim Winton. It chronicles the lives of two working class Australian families who come to live together at One Cloud Street, in a suburb of Perth, Western Australia, over a period of twenty years, 1943 - 1963. It was the recipient of a Miles Franklin Award in 1992. A six-episode mini-series for television was subsequently developed and broadcast; however, significant discrepancies exist between it and the novel.
As one of the most renowned pieces of Australian literature, Cloudstreet encompasses critical Australian themes of family relationships, finding values within the stimuli of life. Winton said in 2007 that "Cloudstreet was my way to express the importance of all the relationships I had throughout my life in Western Australia. As some of you may have picked up from the setting, I love water; the beach, the rivers and the lakes."
Precipitated by separate personal tragedies, two families flee their rural livings to share a "great continent of a house", Cloudstreet, in the Perth suburb of West Leederville. The two families are contrasts to each other; the Lambs find meaning in industry and in God’s grace; the Pickles, in luck. The Lambs’ God is a maker of miracles; the Pickles’ God is the ‘Shifty Shadow’ of fate. Though initially resistant to each other, their search and journey for meaning in life concludes with the uniting of the two families with many characters citing this as the most important aspect of their lives. As a novel, Cloudstreet has a circular structure, opening and ending with a shared celebratory family picnic - a joyous occasion which, ironically, is also the scene of Fish’s long sought-after death or return to the water. The novel is narrated effectively by flashback "in the seconds it takes to die" by Fish Lamb, or the 'spiritual' omniscient Fish Lamb, free of his restricting retarded state. As such the novel gives a voice to social minorities, the Australian working class and the disabled. (However, its treatment of Fish Lamb as somebody incomplete in his physical existence may also be interpreted as demeaning towards the intellectually disabled, depending on the reading position adopted.)
Winton's novel is very much an exploration and celebration of life and what it means, albeit from a very particular point of view. Every character undergoes a personal journey, some longer, harder and more greatly resisted than others, though a feature of all the characters' journeys is the realisation of the importance of family and belonging within it. It illustrates a relationship between family and identity, in which an individual's role within their family is considered to be of paramount importance. Spirituality is also important in Cloudstreet, as an exploration of both community and the search for meaning. There are many occurrences within the novel that would be labelled supernatural or irrational and are not completely explained. Some[who?] have read this to imply that we, as people, are not going to understand everything that happens in the world around us.
The novel reflects a sense of nostalgia for a time where Winton feels there was a greater sense of family and home, largely failing to interrogate the more conservative aspects of society (such as the confinement of women to domestic roles) which enabled the existence of this model. Indeed, of the key female characters in the novel, the only one who attempts to challenge her assigned gender role (Rose Pickles) eventually submits to domestic life, subsuming personal aspirations and the desire for culture to her preoccupations as a young housewife and apparent obsession with producing a child. This transformation is represented as being constructive and morally appropriate. All the characters can be considered to search for somewhere that a loving relationship can exist; Winton suggests that this place is with the family, as is demonstrated by the character Quick Lamb's brief time spent away from home, and ultimate return to it at the urging of an apparently mystical Indigenous character.
Cloudstreet is framed by many key events in world history, including World War II, the Korean War and the assassination of John F. Kennedy. The novel takes place during the prime ministership of Robert Menzies, where Australia was, for the most part, comfortable and conservative, characterised by backyard barbecues, by wives - who were no longer needed for the war effort - consigned to the home, and by the growth of the Australian dream of owning a new home. World events influence the Lambs and Pickles, but distantly, like an echo that sends ripples across the surface of their lives. The novel focuses on the domestic, and this serves as the filter through which history is measured. The most prominent historical character within Cloudstreet is the Nedlands monster, whose real name is Eric Edgar Cooke, a serial killer whom the book states single-handedly "made Perth into a real city". He represents an alternative aspect of life, his journey used in juxtaposition with Quick Lamb's journey.
Literary significance and criticism
Cloudstreet received critical acclaim both in Australia and overseas.
Cloudstreet is one of the many novels studied in New South Wales' Higher School Certificate Advanced English Course (in Module B: Critical Study of Texts), and is also popular in other state senior secondary English curricula. In Western Australia, it is studied as a Year 11 or 12 WACE English Literature text, Year 12 English (Course of Study) 3A/3B text and the play adaptation, as a Year 12 WACE Drama Studies text. It is also a text on the VCE Literature course in Victoria, where it is considered alongside Enright's play adaptation. It is also a book on the IBDP list.
In 2003, members of the Australian Society of Authors (ASA) voted Cloudstreet as their favourite Australian novel. That same a year, Cloudstreet came out on top in a readers' poll organised by the ASA and ABC Radio National. Cloudstreet was the "overwhelming favourite" in the 2010 "ABR Favourite Australian Novel" poll conducted by the Australian Book Review. In 2012, viewers of First Tuesday Book Club voted Cloudstreet #1 on a list of "10 Aussie Books You Must Read Before You Die".
Theatrical and television adaptations
Adapted for the stage by Nick Enright and Justin Monjo, the theatrical adaptation opened in Sydney under the direction of Neil Armfield. Seasons followed in Perth, Melbourne, London, Dublin, New York and Washington DC, with the Company B cast touring the production until 2001 with minimal recasting. A lengthy adaptation at 5 and a half hours, the play attracted rave reviews around the world. The adaptation is published by Currency Press.
The television miniseries Cloudstreet is an adaptation of the book, filmed in Perth in 2010.
- Raging, Catherine (27 May 2003). "Authors' top reads", The Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 9 December 2012.
- Knox, Malcolm (26 November 2003). "Readers' poll puts Winton on cloud nine", The Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 9 December 2012.
- ABR FAN Poll, Australian Book Review. Retrieved 9 December 2012.
- 10 Aussie Books You Must Read Before You Die, First Tuesday Book Club (Australian Broadcasting Corporation). Retrieved 9 December 2012.
|Awards and achievements|
The Great World
|Miles Franklin Award recipient
The Ancestor Game