Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Book Review: "Tin Man" by Sarah Winman

Oh my god, did I love this book. I don't know if everyone will feel the same way I did, but this one had me from the first page to the last.

I know that blurbs on the covers of books often come from friends or other authors from the same publisher, but when Matt Haig says, "This is an astoundingly beautiful book. It drips with tenderness. It breaks your heart and warms it all at once," how can you resist?

"'There's something about first love, isn't there?' she said. 'It's untouchable to those who played no part in it. But it's the measure of all that follows,' she said."

Ellis is a quiet boy growing up outside London. His mother has always felt a little stifled in their town, so she wanted Ellis to follow his dreams, to keep drawing, and to stay in school, paths that aren't necessarily encouraged in the 1960s. He meets Michael, the grandson of a local shopkeeper, and they become fast friends, Michael's more ebullient nature as a complement to Ellis' thoughtfulness.

As the two grow into manhood, they are nearly inseparable. Their friendship transforms, deepens, but both cannot give what the other wants. Then one day Ellis meets Annie and the two are instantly smitten with one another. Yet this isn't the type of story in which one friend gets discarded when the other gets married—Michael becomes a part of Ellis and Annie, an inseparable companion to each in a different way. They are whole when the three are together, mischievous, exuberant, bold.

But after a time, Michael needs to live his own life, and he leaves Ellis and Annie behind. This challenges the couple, as they find themselves becoming what they always swore they wouldn't be—ordinary. And as Michael sees places in the world he always wanted to, and experiences deep emotion, he feels a hole where his friends once were.

"In those days of my twenties and early thirties, I remember how friendships came and went. I was too critical — a disagreement over a film or politics gave me permission to retreat. Nobody matched Ellis and Annie, and so I convinced myself I needed nobody but them. I was a sailboat at heed to the breeze, circling buoys before heading out to the uncomplicated silence of a calm bay."

When Michael returns, the circle is once again completed. Yet he returns with secrets, secrets that could threaten the delicate balance of their lives. But their love for one another, and the joy they get from their friendship, is as if no time has passed.

I'm being a little vague in my description because I felt part of the story's beauty and power was letting the plot unfold. It jumps around through time from the 1960s to the 1990s, and shifts narration between Ellis and Michael. This is an immensely memorable story about friendship, love, and longing, and the blurred lines between those things.

This is a simple story, really—a tale as old as time, if you will—but it held me in its grasp completely. It runs just under 200 pages, so I read the entire book in an evening. This was not quite what I was expecting, but it absolutely blew me away. Sarah Winman's writing is so lyrical but yet it packs a punch. I loved these characters, and was sad that the book ended when it did—I'd love to see a sequel because there's so much more which could transpire.

It took eight days, but Tin Man is the first book to truly dazzle me in the new year. Again, it may partially be a function of the fact that books that touch my emotions really resonate for me, but this one I won't forget anytime soon. Wow, wow, wow.

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