A review of Blueback by Tim Winton

Winton called this novel a contemporary fable, and there is certainly a clear and obvious moral with a positive answer to the question of how can we live in the modern world with our morality and respect for the environment intact.
Reviewed by Magdalena Ball

Blueback
By Tim Winton
Illustrations by Andrew Davidson
ISBN: 0330361627,
Originally published November 1997
Reprint May 2004
A$22.00, softcover

Abel Jackson lives with his mother Dora by the sea at Longboat Bay where they live a hand to mouth but idyllic life, where they dive for abalone. For Abel, every day is special, as he explores the ever-changing sea, and the surrounding bush in which he lives. He feels lucky, and even luckier when he meets and befriends a large, old groper fish that he names Blueback. But Abel has to go away to school, and after Mad Macka, another friend of Blueback’s, dies, a mean and greedy fisherman named Costello, a “reef stripper”, takes over and begins taking “everything he sees.” Abel and Dora do what they can to put a stop to Costello, but time moves forward and things change.

Blueback is a story about love, loss, growing up, and above all, living with respect for our beautiful and natural environment. Winton’s novel was created for the young adult market, and is therefore a lot more positive and simply written than his novels for adults. It is perfectly suitable for a good readers as young as six (my six year old read it in one afternoon and loved it), but will also appeal to teenagers and even adults. It is important that books for young adults present a positive picture, and this does with its strong ecological message and clean, easy to understand characterisations. It is also important that the story isn’t too scary or riddled with things which are disturbing, and I imagine that toeing the line between clarity and youth friendlness, while still creating a complex and powerful story is a difficult undertaking. Winton does it easily though, and Blueback is also a tender and lovely story which adults will enjoy reading quickly. The subtle linking between the old and clever Blueback and Abel’s lost/dead father adds a layer of depth to the story, as does Abel’s own search for meaning in his life as he grows up without his father or other father figures, and as his perception of his mother and the world in which he grew up changes.

Although the characters are simpler than, say, those of The Riders, or Dirt Music, they are still realistic, and children and adults will warm to the good hearted Abel, and his aging but independent and strong mother. Blueback is also a character to be noted, and Winton’s writing is always, beautiful and full of detail and the rich observations which makes his settings come to life:

He felt like a speck, like a bubble on the sea left by a braking wave, here for a moment and then gone. He pulled into tiny sheltered coves and swam with his mother in turquoise water beneath streaky cliffs and trees loud with birds. Some days he sped close in to long sugary beaches. He stayed just behind the breakers and was showered with their spray and saw the great, strange land through the wobbly glass of the waves. He saw the sun melting like butter on white dunes.

Winton called this novel a contemporary fable, and there is certainly a clear and obvious moral with a positive answer to the question of how can we live in the modern world with our morality and respect for the environment intact. This is a lovely, and easy to read novel which will appeal to children of all ages, as well as adults. For more information visit: Blueback

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