Review: Tin Man by Sarah Winman

book review, book cover of tin man by sarah winman and quote: And I wonder what the sound of a heart breaking might be. And I think it might be quiet, unperceptively so, and not dramatic at all. Like the sound of an exhausted swallow falling gently to earth.

I started this book knowing that it has been praised and recommended by many and since it is a short one I decided to give it a go and see if it’s worth the hype.

After reading it I find it hard to make up my mind about it as my opinion is a bit divided about it. Or maybe I just wanted to like it as it was named a great literary fiction by many. The Guardian calls it ‘an exquisitely crafted tale of love and loss’, the Headline calls it ‘The Book of the Year, Tender, Moving and Beautiful’. There are plenty other powerful adjectives thrown about when describing this book, like unequivocally heart-breaking, exquisitely crafted, astoundingly beautiful, beautifully understated, ephemeral yet powerful, timeless beauty, disarmingly lovely, bruisingly tender and emotionally charged.

And looking at them one might raise an eyebrow, and think one of two things:

  1. This sounds like a steaming romance novel (it’s not!)
  2. These reviewers are locked in some sort of pissing contest about who can find the ‘perfectly unique’ two-word description of the book. It seems like things have gotten out of control. My favorite is bruisingly tender. And by the way, bruisingly is not even a word…

Setting these aside let’s see what Tin Man is about.

This is a story of friendship, love, and loss with Ellis and Michael as the main protagonists. We piece together their story bit by bit from their own recounting of the past, the first part is narrated by Ellis and the second by Michael.

It starts as a friendship, they meet as young boys and become inseparable. This friendship is then divided when Ellis meets Annie and falls in love immediately. After they marry Michael kind of disappears from their lives and as the novel proceeds we find out why.

The writing is beautiful and throughout the novel, one rides these wave of melancholy. There is this blanket of sadness covering this whole novel and at times I couldn’t help but feel a bit depressed. Looking back now I think, was it a bit overdone?

This book is like a collage of memories, fragments put together both by Michael and Ellis, so they could make sense of what happened. And as it is with memories some moments get lost over time, thus we never see the whole picture. So I see what Winman wanted to achieve but, as a reader of big books, it left me wanting more.

The big themes of this novel are:

  • love and friendship, on one hand, and
  • the want and need for freedom to do what you want, art in this case, in order to be fulfilled and happy. I love the symbolism behind the title and behind the picture, Ellis’ mother wins at a raffle in the beginning. Life is empty without art.

It is a character-driven book. Do not read this looking for a plot. Read it for the emotions and for the people whose loves and characters you will piece together.

Love. Friendship. Loss. Grief. Identity. Sex. Aids. Memories. This is a highly emotional read and I felt all the emotions while reading it. I closed this book with a heavy heart.

But did I get its message? I feel that I did. Yet, I can’t say this is a 5-star read. I guess I was disappointed by some parts, the biggest being the slow reveal of the second part, Michael’s story. I just felt the story went down a predictable path, and the subject matter is something we’ve seen and read many times before.

OK, I’m done feeling sad and depressed. Better move on to happier reads!

Tin Man by Sarah Winman gets 3 stars from me.

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