Read IN BED: Tin Man
Image by Nikki To
Words by Maggie Scardifeld
Every now and then a book comes along that flaws you. You reach the end, close its cover, exhale, and then immediately want to read it again. Tin Man by British author, Sarah Winman, is one of those stories.
Published in 2017, this slim 195-pager is Winman’s third novel. While you could easily breeze through it in an afternoon, it’s incredibly rich, and therefore best savoured.
The novel follows the long lasting relationship of Ellis and Michael; two beautifully real and complex characters who we come to know as twelve-year-old boys in 1960s England, and who leave us as grown men. Somewhere in between, Ellis meets Annie, and the characters come to exist as a three.
Written in two halves, Winman allows both Ellis and Michael to tell their own stories, and in doing so, we are reminded of the complications, false starts and misunderstandings often involved in love, friendship and grief. Told across many years, the story is beautifully rendered. The landscapes, art and adventures are vivid, and every character is sincere and absorbing. Particularly the strong supporting women – their influence throughout hums just as loudly as the mens’ longing.
The landscapes, art and adventures are vivid, and every character is sincere and absorbing. Particularly the strong supporting women – their influence throughout hums just as loudly as the mens’ longing.
Maybe it’s because I read Tin Man during a time of self-isolation, or maybe not, but it reads like many of the characters are facing their own versions of emotional, sexual and artistic lock-down. “Small gestures are important,” narrates Michael. “I lie facing the balcony, and in the evenings, I lose myself to the transfer of light. Sometimes I open the sliding doors and hear Christmas approach.”
Winman’s writing is sparse and almost weary, but love tinges every moment, every description. “Some mornings when light fell on the canvas, the yellow did something to his head. Woke him up, made him feel brighter,” narrates Ellis.
There’s some big themes – sexuality, masculinity and shame, among them – but Winman weaves everyone’s memories together with such tenderness. “I haven’t cried,” says Michael, “but sometimes I feel as if my veins are leaking, as if my body is overwhelmed, as if I’m drowning from the inside.”
In an equally bittersweet way to, say, Call Me by Your Name or Normal People – the prose is pared back yet thrilling and often left me aching. We watch the boys discover poetry, art and learn to swim. We’re teleported to a romantic summer in the south of France, and on another occasion to Venice, which has Ellis and Annie finding one another again. Holding hands “across tables and leaping on to vaporetti that had already pulled away,” or “sprawled across a bed with the thump of orgasm ripe in their throats.”
In an equally bittersweet way to, say, Call Me by Your Name or Normal People – the prose is pared back yet thrilling and often left me aching.
It’s a lot to take in, and yet it’s not. All together, this novel is a quiet and compassionate meditation on friendship and the intensity of first love. Like the best and worst parts of both, it’ll stay with you long after you’ve walked away.