Figures of the Many and the One: Genre and Narrative Method in Tim Winton’s 'Cloudstreet'


  • Fiona Morrison


For Christmas 1998, Penguin Australia produced Cloudstreet in a hardcover edition under the Viking imprint. As well as author's name and title, the cover includes the phrase: ‘the modern Australian classic.’ The authoritative use of the definite article is matched by the design of classic navy blue and gold spine supporting a sepia photograph of a boat, with its reflection visible on the water. The profitable production of Cloudstreet as a hardcover ‘modern classic’ seven years after its first publication suggests a canny market response to the Australian readership's discernible desire for ‘quality’ historical fiction about modern Australian identity, using recognisably Australian idiom. Nick Enright, a successful Australian playwright and one of the co-authors of a stageplay of Cloudstreet, has said: ‘People get that look in their eye, that Cloudstreet look,’ and that he regards the book as having ‘leapt the fence in Australia, it’s in the bloodstream of the nation.’ Enright’s description of zealous, or perhaps sentimental, reader responses and his breadth and depth metaphors of ‘fence-leaping’ and ‘national bloodstream’ subtends the success of Cloudstreet’s market status as the national classic, and foregrounds the wide appeal of Winton's thematics of belonging and displacement, as well as the text’s nostalgic regard for the (now lost) importance of affective social bonds. In this sense Cloudstreet’s various productions and reception must be addressed in the context of fin de siècle politics of Australian identity as well as Winton’s particular sense of character, use of humour, incisive use of the vernacular, and investment in a lyrical mysticism.