Hardcover, 224 pagesPublished May 15th 2018 by G.P. Putnam’s Sons (first published July 27th 2017)From the internationally bestselling author Sarah Winman comes an unforgettable and heartbreaking novel celebrating love in all of its forms and the little moments that make up the life of an autoworker in a small working-class town.
This is almost a love story. But it’s not as simple as that.
Ellis and Michael are twelve-year-old boys 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 overbearing fathers. And then one day this closest of friendships grows into something more.
But then we fast forward a decade or so, to find that Ellis is married to Annie, and Michael is nowhere in sight. Which leads to the question, what happened in the years between?
With beautiful prose and characters that are so real that they jump off the page, Tin Man is a love letter to human kindness and friendship, and to loss and living.
There’s something about first love, isn’t there? she said. It’s untouchable to those who played no part in it. But it’s the measure of all that follows…
Tin Man is a nostalgic and melancholy read filled with bitter memories and finding oneself at middle age—at any age. More so than plot, this novel offers a meandering of tender memories that all coalesce like rivers in a delta, pooling into one larger story.
Quite honestly, Tin Man offers more by way of poetic descriptions of landscape and emotion than it does of actual plot at times, but that’s the beauty in this story I suppose. The simplicity of narrative—of intent—couples with the deepest and most complex emotions one can feel: love, regret, loneliness, disappointment, heartbreak (so beautifully described as the sound of an exhausted swallow falling gently to earth).
Tin Man is the story of Ellis and Michael. The tale of two twelve-year-old boys who meet at an intersection in their lives where they are both motherless and running from fathers who don’t understand them, who want them to punch away their anger and to harden against the natural softness in their souls. It is the story of the years of their lives they spent together—and those they achingly spent apart. It is a story of compassion and fear, of young lives withered away and stolen by the AIDS epidemic. A story that crosses from England to France and back again.
So when my father went off to his football matches, I went to Mrs. Deakin’s to read, or to make cakes with her for the church fayre. But I wanted to shout, I like football too! and I want to be with you. I want to be around men and their laughter and their ways! But in four years, I was never invited. And I retreated further into the background until I could barely be seen against the wallpaper and curtains, until I eventually disappeared, erased by the notion of what a boy with a handbag should be like.
Sarah Winman managed to squeeze a lot into such a short novel, small and delicate in your hands in its pocket-sized hardback version. I had a strange relationship with Winman’s writing style. It was quiet, like a whisper, and I always felt more moved by the story than I did by her writing. That sounds strange, since one would think these two were one in the same; in many ways they are. But I always felt that it was the story pulling me back in again and again more so than the language she used to tell it. And that’s okay. Because there were moments of absolute brilliance, moments when the narrative glinted and shone like a small mirror turned toward the sun–
And Ellis remembered thinking he would never meet anyone like him again, and in that acknowledgment, he knew, was love. He could see his mother concentrating on Michael’s words, how enraptured she was…she bent down and kissed him on the head and said, Thank you. Because everything she held on to and everything she believed in came together in that unexpected moment. The simple belief that men and boys were capable of beautiful things.
–and those moments were special.
It was still a world of shyness and fear, and those shared moments were everything: my loneliness masquerading as sexual desire. But it was my humanness that led me to seek, that’s all. Led us all to seek. A simple need to belong somewhere.
Tin Man broke my heart in so many little ways, and it was never quite put back together again. That I appreciated, actually. I was never drawn to Ellis the way I was drawn to Michael, and I will always remember Michael’s compassion, his heart, his life. 4 very strong stars. ****
**Thank you to the publicity team at G.P. Putnam’s Sons who reached out to me and sent two lovely copies of this beautiful book!**
Sarah Winman (born 1964) is a British actress and author. In 2011 her debut novel When God Was a Rabbit became an international bestseller and won Winman several awards including New Writer of the Year in the Galaxy National Book Awards.