It is with trepidation that I start reading an author of a book that I adored, and so it was with The Eye of the Sheep. I read The Choke last year and it was one of the best, most harrowing, books that I have read.
As The Eye of the Sheep was awarded the prestigious Miles Franklin literary award, there was every chance that it would by just as impressive.
Like The Choke, The Eye of the Sheep is told from the perspective of a child, but this time, it was a boy, Jimmy Flick. Jimmy is growing up in a troubled family in which his father releases his tension, and anger, when drinking Cutty Sark whisky.
His mother is constantly trying to protect Jimmy and his brother from their father, and often on the receiving end of his violent rage.
Jimmy’s own learning disability – autism is hinted at but never named explicitly – means that he is also in his father’s firing line.
However grim this situation might sound, the story is full of warmth, love and yearning. Jimmy finds enormous comfort in his mother’s soft and fleshy body, which offers him protection against his father and the wider world.
It is hard not to feel a nostalgic joy when Jimmy is allowed to stay home from school, which he dubs ‘enemy territory’. Jimmy’s voice is funny and endearing, making some of events in the particularly heartbreaking. Like his mother, I felt that I wanted Jimmy to be protected against all of the threats inside and outside his house.
Another scene of great and unexpected warmth and joy in the story is when Jimmy’s father takes him to stay with his uncle, and the three go fishing and swimming together. Jimmy’s father takes on the role of Jimmy’s protector, and the two seem to see each other clearly for the first time.
So many passages resonated with me, and Laguna has a wonderful way with language that conveys both beauty and poignancy, along with a sense of foreboding. In particular, I loved how Jimmy described he and his brother as his mother’s ‘two miracles’, after his mother had struggled conceiving them.
I don’t want to say more about the story as I don’t want to give anything away, but The Eye of the Sheep has the same beautiful language as The Choke, and a story that is at times, uplifting, and other times, heartbreaking. A little less harrowing than The Choke, it well and truly met my expectations and it appears to me that Sofie Laguna is one of Australia’s most exciting novelists.