The Shepherd’s Hut by Tim Winton

‘I told meself this was the best day of me life .’

Jackson (‘Jaxie’) Clackton is a survivor. He’s survived his mother’s death and he wishes his father was dead too. In the meantime, he tries his best to keep out of his father’s way. One day he goes home to find that he really is alone. Jaxie panics. He knows that there is one person in his world who understands him, but he’ll have to travel across some inhospitable parts of Western Australia to find her. Jaxie grabs a few items and heads off. Can he survive? Will he make it to his destination?

Jaxie has learned not to trust anyone and not to rely on anyone. He has learned the power of violence. Jaxie is impulsive, insular and isolated. He’s confident (sometimes) but vulnerable. As I travelled with Jaxie through the heat and the dust, searching for food and water I wondered how he would survive. I wondered whether Jaxie’s survival mattered, whether the rough teenager could become anything other than a violent man. Could his experiences gentle him in some way? We kept travelling. Me, worrying as parents should, him focussed on his destination. It’s brutal, confronting stuff. Jaxie is not likeable, but I’d like to think that he’s not beyond redemption. Yet.

What happens next? You’ll need to read the book to find out. Tim Winton’s words are much better than mine. I read this novel quickly, wanting to know what would happen next, wanting to intervene. Just wanting. I finished the novel hoping that Jaxie would find what he needed, knowing that want and need are very different things, and that abused children so often become abusive adults. I found this an uncomfortable novel to read because Jaxie emerged from the pages as a fully realised person. And I despair.

‘He saw me coming before I knew I was even there .’

Jennifer Cameron-Smith