by Tim Winton
McPhee Gribble, $18.95 pb, 426 pp, 0869142240
What do you do when you wake up in the morning and feel the shifty shadow of God lurking? You stay in bed, and hope that it’ll pass you by, that’s what. Sam Pickles doesn’t. He goes to work and loses his fingers in a winch: when he takes his glove off, they ‘fell to the deck and danced like half a pound of live prawns’.
The Lamb family, on the other hand, believed in God rather than luck, until their son Fish (short for Samsonfish, Samson being his given name) drowns while prawning in the river. He is resuscitated, but too late; his brain is damaged.
The two families come to live together in a vast rambling mansion in Perth which gives the book its title: it’s in Cloud Street. It’s also haunted by a terrible past. ‘Lamb and Pickles,’ guffaws Sam, ‘It’s gunna sound like a counter lunch.’ Since Tim Winton is writing it, that is presumably his intention. And this is probably the place for me to mention my doubts about the characters’ names; I don’t see why they need to be ludicrous. There’s Fish Lamb and his brother Quick (because he’s slow), their sisters Elaine, Hat, and Red; in comparison, the Pickles are treated mildly: they’re Dolly, Chub, and Ted, with sister Rose. Rose Pickles: I suppose it’s a statement. The novel is often extremely black farce, but that could be a reason for more serious naming.