We’re in an age where the world has decreed that making noise is the only way to be noticed. Social media has made it easy for us to do this, even though half the time, the noise is unnecessary and on the wrong side of the line. But it’s there. And in times like these, it happens very rarely that we come across a book that’s as hard-hitting as it is quiet. And isn’t that a truth of life? That some of the most hard-hitting things in life creep up on you quietly and some of the most intensely wise people are the quiet ones. A king among these things is this book, Tin Man by Sarah Winman, a fitting, winning rhyme if ever there was one.
Sarah Winman is a master of quiet but impactful storytelling, like the childhood stories we listened to and learnt as children. The effect is such that I could hear a door slam shut in the story and flinched. I could almost hear the crackle of the fire. I could hear the traffic. I could hear Ellis’s gasp for breath and Michael’s angst. It’s a beautiful ode, a tribute to love, memory, loss, and hope. Of oblivion, of cluelessness – a story that meanders leisurely yet hopelessly through its own bylanes.
Ellis and Michael meet at the age of twelve and quickly become friends. They spend a lot of time learning about each other and facing life together, so much that an unbreakable connection is forged between them. Years later, Annie enters their lives and though she creates a bond with Michael, something changes. Annie and Ellis are now married and Michael, despite being an important part of their lives, is nowhere in the picture. What is it that has caused these drastic changes?
The answer to this can probably best be summarized in this quote from the book:
Life changes in ways we can never imagine. Walls come down and people are free.
Tin Man is a quietly powerful book, rendering you emotional and speechless at the beautiful writing that’s like a breath of fresh air and a weight pulling you deeper into the innermost recesses of your mind to make you process everything. The balance that the author brings is delicate, like that last barrier that remains which, if broken, would destroy everything we ever really knew about humans and kindness and generosity.
Just like Dora and her sunflowers, this book looks at the sun. It embraces the shadows but doesn’t dwell on them. Yet, despite the light, there’s a bunch of strings that pulls you back from the chaos of the spotlight. The book and its events lived in my senses as I read it, as I immersed myself in it. I can sense them even now, even though time and its passage could be such a cruel executor of memory. And maybe that’s a good thing, I tell myself, because this way, Tin Man will live with me for a long time to come.
If Dora’s worldly hopefulness would only come into being, the world would allow for people to fall apart without judging them for it. The world would help people back up without pointing fingers or sneering at them. Men wouldn’t find the need to hold back their emotions because they have to put up a brave front. Toxic masculinity wouldn’t be prevalent. Men would be kind to each other; the world would be kind to men. Ellis would have found it easier to deal with everything he was going through. He wouldn’t have had to do this:
Billy came out and saw him (Ellis) looking up with tears frozen before they could fall. And he wanted to say to Billy, I’m just trying to hold it all together, that’s all.
He wanted to say that because he’d never been able to say that to anyone, and Billy might be a good person to say it to. But he couldn’t. So he walked past him without looking, walked past and ignored him just as his father would have done.
The most prominent prop in this story is the painting of the sunflowers. The original was by Van Gogh and throughout the story, we see allusions to Van Gogh’s own life. From talking about his birth to his birthplace to how his work differed so vastly from the place he came from, this book, in multiple metaphors and analogies, shows us how our circumstances and our choices can affect our lives. It changes us in ways that only the people who are paying attention to us can. We change, we move, we experience, and in this process, we grow. And isn’t that the goal of life? To not stagnate? To explore?
Of course, it’s easier said than done. For, ghosts are real. Even if they are metaphorical, they are real. And here it is summarized in this short dialogue: No ghosts tonight? she said. / Are there usually any? I said. / Would that be a comfort? / I think it might, I said. And I realized that there are so many layers to this! “How can ghosts be a comfort?” I wondered. But these are the metaphorical ones, the ones that plague the mind and heart. And the existence of these ghosts is a reminder of a life lived. Maybe that’s the comfort the author is talking about through her ridiculously beautiful writing in this story that’s so quietly, warmly hopeful through all the pain and the angst.
I’ll leave you with this beautiful, beautiful quote that, I think, represents so many of us today:
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.
If you haven’t read this book already, please, please do pick it up. The quiet assurance through the shattered glass of the pain running through this story will be a balm to your soul, I promise.
If you have read Tin Man, let me know in the comments what you think of the book.
I’ll see you in the next blog post.
Until next time, keep reading and add melodrama to your life. 😊