Tin Man by Sarah Winman
Opening sentence: “All Dora Judd ever told anyone about that night three weeks before Christmas was that she won the painting in a raffle.”
You know when you finish a book and just have to take a moment to compose yourself? Yes, that. To say Tin Man packs an emotional punch is an understatement. Set in Oxford, this is the tale of Ellis and Michael, close friends since meeting at age 13, they develop a strong, complex friendship that gives them so much joy and so much heartbreak.
The story is told first from Ellis’ point of view as a 46-year-old, describing his life now and flashbacks to his past. When Ellis met, and then married, Annie, rather than resent her, Michael embraced her, so she fit seamlessly into both their lives and the inseparable duo become an inseparable trio. But, as the years move on, Michael leaves Oxford for London and drifts apart from Ellis and Annie. We learn that Ellis dreamed of being an artist, but finds himself working in a factory, banging the dents out of cars; he is unfulfilled and a little lost. (Side note: this classic scene from Father Ted popped into my head when reading this, I include it here for its comedy genius, rather than any link to the book. Enjoy!)
In the second half of the book, events are told through Michael’s voice when Ellis finds Michael’s diaries. In them he poignantly discovers things about Michael’s life, his secrets and sufferings that he didn’t know his friend went through.
If you’re wondering if the title has any Wizard of Oz link, as I did when I picked it up, Sarah Winman explains, “The interesting thing for me was the idea of the yellow brick road. The idea of the journeying towards truth, self-realisation, integration. And of course, the colour yellow which would contrast well against the grey of the industrial landscape at the beginning.” The yellow colour theme flows throughout as Van Gogh’s sunflowers also play a key role in Tin Man. They are especially important to Ellis’ mother and Michael, symbolising hope, dreams and ambitions and on a more visceral note, how can your heart not lift a little at the sight of a sunflower? They are the perfect motif for this tender story.
Some books you can read with background noise – the TV, cafe chatter – but some need to be read in silence, so you can take in every word with absolutely no distractions. This is one of those books, it is so beautifully written, ‘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.’ At only 195 pages, it won’t take you long, so relish it and immerse yourself in Ellis and Michael’s world.
I was sent this book in exchange for an honest review.