That Eye, the Sky

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Tim Winton, a prizewinning Australian novelist, has acquired a well-merited reputation for novels that portray the rural life of his native country. THAT EYE, THE SKY is no exception, and the action of the novel takes place in a small asbestos and wood house at the edge of a town in western Australia.

Action is, however, a misnomer. The book contains little in the way of overt plotting; instead, the character development of Morton Flack, a ten-year-old boy, receives the main emphasis. The boy, nicknamed Ort, tells his story in the first person; readers will either find this charming or off-putting, depending on taste.

Ort, whose parents are remnants of the hippie culture of the 1960’s, cannot cope with the town school and its slightly more sophisticated denizens. Though he lacks the toughness of his older sister Tegwyn, he reveals his strength of character by his mature reaction to his father’s death. Now lacking a paternal role model, Ort soon makes good the loss via Henry Warburton, an itinerant minister who comes to stay with Ort and his family. Through his fascination with Warburton’s character and his adoption of his religion, Ort overcomes his aversion to the local educational establishment, though he soon bolts once more. Warburton’s influence on Ort remains potent, however, and it suffers no diminution when it emerges that the minister is a petty criminal.

The book possesses considerable humor of a type not common in American fiction and will be of value to readers who like slice-of-life novels.