[Book Review] Tin Man by Sarah Winman

This is almost a love story.

Ellis and Michael are twelve when they first become friends, and for a long time it is just the two of them, cycling the streets of Oxford, teaching themselves how to swim, discovering poetry, and dodging the fists of an overbearing father. And then one day this closest of friendships grows into something more.

Tin Man is a beautiful portrait of a love triangle between Ellis, Michael, and Annie. But it’s also a story of friendship and a story of family. The novel opens in 1950, with Ellis’s mother remembering the day she acquired a painting by Vincent van Gogh.

All Dora Judd ever told anyone about that night three weeks before Christmas was that she won the painting in a raffle.

Tin Man, first line

From there, we jump to Ellis in 1996, who we follow for the first hundred pages or so before we get a narrative from Michael’s journal about where he was in the years he was missing from Ellis and Annie’s life.

The dust cover synopsis describes this book as an “almost love story,” and that’s true in many ways. As the novel reveals, Ellis, Michael, and Annie could have all easily had different lovers and different lives. But this book is about the lives they did have, the lovers they lost, and how each one of them felt in the end.

I lift myself out and sit by the edge of the pool with a towel around my shoulders. And I wonder what the sound of a heart breaking might be. And I think it might be quiet, unperceptibly so, and not dramatic at all. Like the sound of an exhausted swallow falling gently to earth.

Tin Man, p. 177

This is my first Sarah Winman read, and it was truly a delightful little novel to come across. I bought it on impulse at a bookstore because it was marked down to only $3 or $4. In truth, I bought it not just for the cheap price, but for the lovely cover. My younger sister is an artist, and I come from a family of casual and serious artists. When I was younger, I remember my mother owning a big coffee table book of van Gogh’s paintings. I would often take that book down and admire the images inside. The sunflowers were always my favorite, for many of the same reasons they are the Dora’s favorite in Tin Man. Needless to say, I connected to this novel because of the van Gogh element, and it rekindled my love for the painter.

The novel is just over 200 pages, and you can read it in a day, but I spent several days taking my time with this book because it comprehensively covers several people’s lives: Dora and her husband, Ellis, and Michael, along with the woman who raises Michael, and then the other woman Ellis’s father begins seeing. Tin Man is almost a love story, yes, but the novel itself is also a portrait of a small Oxford community and the many colors of their lives which intermingle, weaving in and out of each other over the length of the canvas, forming a gorgeous portrait you could spend days admiring.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

PUBLICATION DEETS: Putnam, July 27, 2017, 213 pages

CATEGORIES: literary fiction, LGBTQIA lit.

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