High schoolers still have no fucking clue what Cloudstreet is about

The great Australian novel has an uneasy relationship with the nation's high schoolers.

High schoolers still have no fucking clue what Cloudstreet is about

27 May, 2016. 16:45

ERROL PARKER | Editor-at-large | Contact

TWENTY-FIVE YEARS AFTER it was first published, twenty-four after it won the Miles Franklin Award, high school students around Australia still have no fucking idea what Tim Winton’s Cloudstreet is about.

Though their teachers might explain the themes and motifs of the 426-page classic, nearly every student surveyed by the Queensland Curriculum and Assessment Authority said that they couldn’t follow the book because of how it was written.

One student responded by saying that the novel encompasses critical Australian themes of family relationships, finding values within the stimuli of life – but they didn’t really give two fucks about that shit.

“I’m not a very smart person,” said one respondent.

“I don’t pretend to be either. If I have to read a book, like holding a gun to my head, it’d be a Matthew Reilly or something to that effect. A book that can entertain me on a plane or something,”

“There isn’t a person aged between 14-18 in the country who would read fucking Cloudstreet out of pleasure.”

Sitting cross-legged on a wooden chair while running his fingers through his hair, Tim Winton offered a retort from the comfort of his local Fremantle cafe this morning, saying that school kids need to read books that aren’t all about explosions and people getting shot.

While he stopped short of suggesting students should be subjected to books like Oscar and Lucinda and The Solid Mandala, he did agree that young people should be forced to read books they don’t like.

“Cloudstreet is about the human condition and the traditions that form our society,” said the 55-year-old.

“It’s something that should be in the curriculum, even if normal and well-adjusted students hate reading it. I had one student write me a letter saying that if he ever found me, he’d break my legs,”

“It’s the little things like that which keep me going.”

5 Responses to "High schoolers still have no fucking clue what Cloudstreet is about"

  1. Kim   May 30, 2016 at 6:20 am

    I have a distant memory of picking up Oscar and Lucinda and running in fear after about 50 pages – the fear that I would not live to see the end of it. I also hate the Winton one about the surfer which ended up being about child abuse.

    Reply
  2. Elena   September 5, 2016 at 10:41 pm

    just watch the tv series, more engaging than the book

    Reply
  3. Paddy   September 20, 2016 at 12:15 pm

    HSC question 2005
    “What will continue to make Cloudstreet worthy of critical study?”

    Your response to this question has been challenged by another student. Defend your position through a critical analysis of Cloudstreet, analysing the construction, content and language of the text.

    Well, fellow student. It would appear that we have differing opinions on the subject of Tim Winton’s novel Cloudstreet. That’s all right, rest assured that I believe you have every right to enjoy whatever book like, despite my own convictions toward it. And if you choose to critically study and analyse this book then I wish you well on that particular endeavour. That point at where I begin to take issue is the exact point where I, and thousands of other students, are forced to do as you do and have part of our ATAR’s hang in the balance, especially when the book we’re forced to choke down is as flawed as Cloudstreet. I don’t think there is such thing as a perfect, objectively good book, but if my argument against assigned, mandatory related texts must involve going through each book in existence and pointing out why it is unsuitable to be forced upon unwitting high school students then I’ll start with the one that I’m being forced to study right now. Cloudstreet relies too heavily on subjective nostalgia and is unable to discern and therefore achieve its ultimate goal amidst all the poor grammar, patronising reverse snobbism and bad metaphors.

    The first major issue I have with Cloudstreet is its attempt to glorify 1950’s middle class “bogan” Australia by looking at it through the eyes of an English teacher. One of the things that is cited for being so good about Cloudstreet is its use of Australian vernacular to convey aspects of typical Australian life. And though I did feel as though the dialogue between characters was genuinely and uniquely Australian, the vast majority of the books length is taken up by interjections from the narrator who describes the family in a way that’s comparable to David Attenborough describing a family of meerkats. A heartfelt conversation between Lester and Fish such as “You’re clever enough, cobber. Wanna sing a song?” ”The house sad Lestah” “What? How dyou know that?” “It talks” is immediately followed by a description of the event in a completely different writing style: “Fish rolls onto his side and puts a hand carelessly across Lester’s thigh. The veins in his arm are dark and dense.” So despite the narrators’ positive view of the family, this stark and immediate contrast between two very different styles of writing gives the narrator a patronising air of superiority, as well making it seem distant and un-genuine. Surely I can’t be the only one who see’s the irony in the fact that Toby Raven, the pretentious, stuck up poet whom the reader is supposed to hate, speaks in a tone that is virtually indistinguishable from that of the book itself. I as a reader can never get inside the world of the characters; I’m always viewing it through the eyes of a somewhat pompous ghost who feels the need to explain every detail of both physical and metaphysical aspects of the story instead of having them shown to us by the actions of the characters. My ability to read and analyse a text is severely stunted if it is rendered near unreadable by it’s conflicting styles of writing, so I ask why is it so vital that my HSC should depend on my being able to do so.

    It seems to be common that people who endorse Cloudstreet as a HSC text are most often the people who have long completed the HSC. I’m afraid, fellow student that you are in fact an outlier in this regard. And I’m not suggesting that pupils should decide the school curriculum, otherwise school would cease to exist, my point is that the people who tend to argue that Cloudstreet is such a significant masterpiece are reading it through goggles of nostalgia. The book uses nostalgia quite regularly as a technique to contrast modern times to the era represented in the book, and this is meant to show the closeness of the families in comparison to families today who are separated from each other by their connection to technology. The Lamb children play in the street, people buy from a corner store instead of a supermarket, and the kids use a public bath where pervs can swim under and stare up at people getting changed. All of this reminds the reader of how important family and community values where in a simpler time when our lives where not so dominated by technology. But this technique employed by the author is inappropriate for a HSC text for two reasons: 1) nostalgia is entirely subjective and skews ones critical understanding of the book and 2) the book exploits the documented phenomenon of juvenoia. Juvenoia is, as George Orwell wrote is the tendency for “Every generation [to] imagine itself to be more intelligent than the one that went before it, and wiser than the one that comes after it.” Aristotle wrote about how excessive modern society was corrupting youth in the fourth century BC and in 1907 the journal of education remarked that family values were falling apart because of young people interest in the new technology of the day – magazines. Nostalgic longing for a “simpler time” and juvenoia are phenomena common to every generation but as someone who was born long after these “simpler times” ended I’m both completely unaffected by these attempts to incite nostalgia and juvenoia for 1950’s Australia and able to witness their effects in others, namely the people who recommend and enforce Cloudstreet and mark Cloudstreet essays. If you enjoy Cloudstreet because it reminds you of a less Americanised and simpler Australia then that’s great, you’ve found a book you can really relate to, but don’t force me to study and inevitably have less interest and understanding in it simply because I’m not part of the target audience, and am thus incapable of feeling the very emotions that inspire you to study it so much.

    Once again I would like to re-iterate that I do not see your opinion, fellow student, as invalid purely because you happen to like Tim Winton’s Cloudstreet, nor do I believe that the book is entirely without merit. But I must ask, being that this book is so flawed, why must my ATAR (and by extension future university and career opportunities) be so dependant on my ability to read and analyse this book and only this book? If the aim of the module is to teach me critical analysis of texts, wouldn’t it make more sense for me spend my time doing many separate analyses of several much shorter texts instead of practically repeating the same points about the same very long, very flawed text over and over? This is why I see Cloudstreet as unsuitable for HSC study in this particular module.

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  4. Trent   October 5, 2016 at 9:36 pm

    That cunt Winton needs a haircut and a smack in the mouth for writing such shit.

    Reply

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