Explore Tim Winton’s themes of lost boys and toxic masculinity with your book club.
A rifle-shot of a novel – crisp, fast, shocking – The Shepherd’s Hut is an urgent masterpiece about solitude, unlikely friendship, and the raw business of survival.
Discussion points and questions:
- On one level The Shepherd’s Hut is a novel about the degree to which violence infects all human life, whether we’re conscious of it or not. In fact it may even underpin it. Discuss this point.
- Jaxie is a victim of violence, but he’s also a perpetrator. During the course of the story he comes to examine the extent to which he’s enmeshed in this brutal cycle, and he longs to be free of it. Consider his transition, and the irony of it, given the events that follow.
- Jaxie is a complex character: older than his years, poorly educated but bush-smart and quick-witted, someone who loves a fight but yearns for peace, a kid who’s never really been given an even break. How much of him do you think is character and how much circumstance?
- Jaxie’s childhood seems to have been shaped by misogyny as much as by violence, and to some extent he hungers for other ways to be a man. He doesn’t want to be his father and yet his language and habits of mind are often harsh indeed. Is he doomed to reproduce the narrow toxic masculinity of his father, or could he transcend it?
- Jaxie has a complicated relationship to language. Often he seems trapped within a narrow lexicon, and yet at certain moments words and ideas allow him to exceed himself. How important is language in this novel? To what degree are we all trapped or liberated by language?
- While Jaxie says he doesn’t believe in praying, he suspects it’s something everyone does, one way or another, out of instinct or superstition. Do you agree with him?
- Who is wiser and more worldly, Fintan or Jaxie? To what extent do they change one another?
- Once he’s fled Monkton, Jaxie’s immediate challenge is survival. Even his larger quest, to reach Mount Magnet and Lee, hinges on his survival in a harsh and lonely environment. Because of his upbringing he has many skills to sustain himself physically, but what of his psychological survival skills? What do you consider these to be?
- Fintan could be seen as a kind of modern-day transportee – an Irishman banished to Australia for his crime. What’s your view of him, and of his punishment? What kind of a role model is he?
- Fintan and Jaxie are both outcasts. They’re from different generations, different cultures, different circumstances, but how alike are they, in your opinion?
- Discuss the way in which Fintan has come to connect so strongly to the landscape he’s exiled in, to see its beauty through the harshness and to feel himself a part of it. Do you see anything significant in the fact that he’s done this comparatively quickly?
- Consider how Jaxie comes to share some of Fintan’s feelings about the land. Jaxie has always been at home in the bush, but in what ways does he see it differently through Fintan?
- And how differently does Jaxie see himself as a result of knowing Fintan?
- Fintan wonders if the land and its features have in fact become his god and judge – a pure, dispassionate judge (page 227). What point do you think he’s making here?
- On page 49 Jaxie comments that he’s a roller of the dice. Consider the role played in this story by quirks of fate/gambling/risk taking.
- Jaxie comments on page 235 that it’s ‘a dangerous feeling getting noticed, being wanted’. This experience, which so many take for granted, is something he has only ever felt with two people, Lee and Fintan. Why do you think he regards it as dangerous?
- What kind of mental state do you think he’s in by the time he observes the two thugs attacking Fintan? And when he’s driving away from the shepherd’s hut?
- Is Jaxie a defender of decency, as he claims, or just a murderer? A battered boy with a heart of gold or a sociopath?
- To what extent is Jaxie a reliable narrator?
- How much of his relationship with Lee do you think is fantasy?
- What do you imagine will happen once Jaxie reaches Mount Magnet?
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