Everything in Tim Winton’s The Shepherd’s Hut is so sad, so true. Jackson ‘Jaxie’ Clackton, an intelligent, dangerous teen, flees his family home after finding his abusive father dead. He heads to the middle of nowhere in wheatbelt Western Australia. At the edge of the desert he meets Fintan MacGillis, a disgraced priest who is subsisting in the hut of the title. On one level, this slender, tight, all-asking novel is a biblical parable. There are no sheep in it, but ovines aren’t the only creatures who need tending.
This is Winton’s most daring novel of recent times. His exploration of childhood and young adulthood is spot on, as it always is, as are his evocations of the Australian landscape. His ordinary life humour never lets him down. Yet with its unfettered exploration of male violence, this is the darkest book in Winton’s oeuvre, not least because what happens in it could be happening next door.