When one thinks of Tim Winton’s stories, one think of the Australian landscape, especially the sea. And so it is with Winton’s first novel, An Open Swimmer, which follows young WA poet Jerra, who has a strange, yet intriguing obsession with finding pearls inside the fish he catches. Unable, and perhaps unwilling, to keep a job, Jerra floats through life obsessed with the past, of the fading relationship with his best mate, Sean, and of his time Sean’s ill mother.
The narrative begins during Jerra and Sean’s holiday at a south-west beach, where their strained their friendship sends them home early. Before they leave, Jerra encounters an odd old man who lives on the beach, who he finds a strangely kindred spirit in. Back in Perth, Jerra meets a woman, and gets a job in a deli, which he is soon fired from, before feeling drawn back to the same beach to speak with the strange man.
Like all of the novels that followed, Winton’s terse writing and almost poetic language sings off the page, perfectly capturing not only the WA coastal and city landscapes, but also Jerra’s fragile mentality. While there is one moment of absolute waste that is off-putting, it conveys the sort of character Jerra is. I highly recommend An Open Swimmer.