Published by G.P. Putnam's Sons
Publication date: May 15, 2018
When Sarah Winman’s Tin Man begins the tragedy of Ellis Judd’s life has already ended. He is a 45-year-old man who works the night shift at a car plant near Oxford, England. He lives alone with a life of monotonous routine and works nights because he can’t sleep. Can’t sleep because he’s left with nothing but memories of his wife, Annie, and his dearest friend, Michael, both of whom died in a car accident five years ago. In one fell swoop the two people he loved most, gone. From that point on, his life was split into before and after and after meant basic survival, nothing more. Until he finds a box of Michael’s belongings in his father’s attic and suddenly, the past becomes the only way forward.
Ellis and Michael have a long history, having met when they were 12. Their friendship deepened into something more in their late teens after the death of Ellis’ mother left him removed from anything other than the prospect of quitting school to go work in the car plant where his father worked. Michael, with his big heart and exuberant nature, is the best balm for the taciturn, emotionally withdrawn Ellis. Later, a trip to France puts them at the crossroads—go one way and it will be a whole new world. Or go back home and life stays the same. Ellis is not able to take that step so they return to Oxford and begin their adult lives and then…Annie. And Ellis is happy and in love and Michael is happy that Ellis is happy. Life is good within their trio, until it’s not, and Michael leaves Oxford for London.
Winman splits the novel into two parts—Ellis’ story and Michael’s. Ellis’ story comes first, which is emblematic, because whether he knew it or not, Ellis always came first. But, despite not hearing from Michael until the second half, his story is the more profound and touching. The depth of his feelings for Ellis and Annie is such that even when Annie tells him that if he meets someone he must bring them round, he cannot fathom the thought.
The idea was incompatible. I could never bring anyone into our three. I had no room to love anyone else.
What becomes clear when he moves to London for six years, a time when they are no longer in touch, is that the impact is greater for Annie and Ellis.
His absence unbalanced them both in a way neither could have predicted. Without Michael’s energy and view of the world they became the settled married couple both had fearing becoming.
In this way, we learn that while Ellis may have been first in the hearts of Annie and Michael, it is Michael who was the knot that bound them gently together.
Recently, I’ve been reading propulsive, drama laden novels (ala The Favorite Sister and The Map of Salt and Stars). Tin Man is their antithesis, a quiet little book that holds the attention, not for its pace, but for Winman’s delicate prose and her characters, simple and profound. Much like Kent Haruf, whose work I adore, she saturates the pages with all the colors and facets of being human. This is a tender novel about the fragility and strength of love and relationships. A novel that quiets the noise and soothes, even when it imparts pain, because it is so real and unadorned.
Sarah's Book Shelves says
Ooooh – Kent Haruf comparison?! This just came in from the library and I’ll be reading it after Favorite Sister…sounds like it will be a good change of pace!
Yup. It does mean a little slow, though, but after The favorite Sister slower will be welcome!
Kate W says
Excellent review! I have this one in my TBR stack and I’m looking forward to it. I loved Winman’s debut – I read it years ago but it’s still a book I recommend to people.
I have never read her before but will add it to my TBR. I loved her writing.
Susie | Novel Visits says
Fantastic review, Catherine! You summed up Tin Man beautifully. Tender is the perfect word to describe this story.
Thank you! Now I can go read yours!
Hoo boy does this sound right up my alley. It’s been on my list and now it’s springing to the front (or as close to the front as a book can get).
I don’t think you’ll regret it. It was you mentioning Haruf that made me think of him and how alike I found the writing to be. Peaceful even when painful- which sounds twisted, but you know what I mean.
Which is why we’ll spend our senior years in the same isolated, tropical compound away from humanity with booze and books and other likeminded women. But not too many.
WHEN?? I am ready now. Speaking of senior years and tropical getaways, do you think you’ll ever move from the PNW? I keep thinking that’s where I’ll end up, but if everyone I know moves away (well, that might be for the best for them, but) it takes a bit of the shine off.
NO! Both my husband and I have seen enough snow to last a lifetime and will do our absolute best to avoid it. But definitely not Seattle. Too big and too expensive. I’m pretty sure we’ll head back to Oregon- south of Portland.
I did not know you had previously been in OR. That’s where I’ve always thought I would go, but WA also beckons a bit. I did a long car trip with my dog back in 1992 just perusing those areas, but I really need to spend more time reconnoitering. Brookings looks interesting. I’ve heard great things about Yachats. I need to chuck it all, trick out a van, throw the dog in the back and go find my spot, because THE TIME IS COMING when I’m going to be ready to go full Kaczynski (sans explosives, which I guess is really going Walden, right?)
Got it. You might interested in my husband’s plan- full on compound, razor wire fence, no humanity within 50 miles. Not stockpiling arms, just complete societal withdrawal and self-sufficiency. Really, he wants to be Christopher Knight from The Stranger in the Woods.
I have read Winman before — her debut novel When God Was a Rabbit but this new one sounds better. I’d like to check it out. I chatted with her at a book festival and she seemed down to earth. I didnt realize she’s also been an actress. hmm
I don’t know anything about her! That is so interesting. It is a beautiful book.
Running 'n' Reading says
Damn! Nearly five stars? Okay, I guess I need to read this one – hahaha! I’ve been really curious about it, especially after hearing Susie’s thoughts. Another one added to the list!
Oh, Tara, I am almost certain you would give this your highest rating. It is the kind of sink-into poetical prose we both love. The story is simple and small, but so big. You MUST read.
Amy @ Read a Latte says
The comparison to Kent Haruf is spot on! I absolutely loved this book. So beautifully quiet and heartbreaking!
I have her debut on my TBR as a ‘read when desperate for beauty’ option. And boy do I miss Haruf.