Sarah Winman: Tin Man
Published By: Tinder Press
Buy it here
What The Blurb Says:
It begins with a painting won in a raffle: fifteen sunflowers, hung on the wall by a woman who believes that men and boys are capable of beautiful things.
And then there are two boys, Ellis and Michael,
who are inseparable.
And the boys become men,
and then Annie walks into their lives,
and it changes nothing and everything.
Tin Man sees Sarah Winman follow the acclaimed success of When God Was A Rabbit and A Year Of Marvellous Ways with a love letter to human kindness and friendship, loss and living.
What I Say:
“We love who we love don’t we?”
Tin Man was one of those books that I first heard about on the internet, that everyone seems to be raving about, and honestly, sometimes that does nothing but put me off reading it. Why? Well for me, there is nothing worse than picking up a book the whole world is raving about, and I just don’t get it (step forward Captain Correlli’s Mandolin!).
Tin Man may be a short book, but it holds so much within its pages. It is a novel about love, about loss, and about living the life you have to lead rather than the life you want.
The story centres around three people, Ellis, Michael and Annie. We first hear Ellis’ life story, and the second part of the book is Michael’s voice.
Dora, who is Ellis’ mum, is not treated well by Ellis’ father, and when she wins a copy of Van Gogh’s Sunflowers in a raffle, her insistence in hanging the picture in her home, brings her a sense of peace and calm as she becomes absorbed by the painting and Van Gogh. The painting becomes extremely important to her, and she stands up to her husband when he threatens to move it. Ellis, an aspiring artist, understands Dora’s love of the painting, as he too suffers at the hands of his bullying father.
When Ellis is introduced to Michael, the grandson of Mabel, the local shopkeeper, they have an immediate and intense connection, spending all their spare time together. Dora and Michael also bond over their love of Dora’s sunflower painting. Ellis and Michael, tentatively edge towards a relationship, which is brought to an abrupt halt when Ellis’ father sees them sitting too close together.
Knowing how much Ellis loves his art, and wants to pursue his passion, his father tells him that he will be leaving school and working in the local car factory as a panel beater. His life is shattered when Dora is taken ill and passes away, believing that her son will finish school and follow his dream of becoming an artist. Ellis believes he has no choice, and is forced to live an ordinary and mundane life to appease his father.
Ellis was married to Annie, whom he met while he and Michael were delivering Christmas trees, he is now a widower, half living his uninspiring repetitive life as he deals with his grief. One snowy night on the way to work, Ellis gets knocked off his bike, and he is forced to take time off which gives him a chance to re-evaluate his life and what he truly wants for himself.
For me, one of the most poignant pieces in the book is when Ellis is so worried that he will forget about Annie, he rings different people and asks them questions about her to keep her alive in his memory. Annie understood the deep relationship that Ellis and Michael had, and never questioned it. Ellis truly loves her, and Michael, although deeply in love with Ellis, understands that Annie has Ellis’ heart.
Tin Man is also Michael’s story, and he fills in the blanks of the relationship he has with Ellis, and also with Annie. Sarah Winman’s exquisite writing deftly shows us the constant pain of Michael’s almost unrequited love.
Michael and Ellis, prior to Ellis meeting Annie, have a holiday in France and can finally embrace the passionate relationship Michael has been dreaming of. To Michael, it is everything. He can imagine them having a future, believing that the love they have for each other is all they need to face an unaccepting and hostile society. However, Ellis changes his mind and without saying anything, ends their relationship by packing his luggage, ready to return home and acting as if nothing has happened.
Michael says; “I’d already accepted I wasn’t the key to unlock him, She’d come later”.
Annie, the love of Ellis’ life, does indeed come later, and she, Ellis and Michael become three sides of the triangle. Michael even goes wedding dress shopping with her. Michael understands that Annie has Ellis’ heart in a way he never could, and he has to deal with the pain and grief this realisation brings him. He has to physically and emotionally distance himself from Ellis and Annie, and he ends up working on a mas in France. It is there that he seems to finally find the peace he has craved, and it is a clever nod to Dora that his lodgings are on the edge of a field of sunflowers, the picture that he and Dora loved so much.
Although never said out loud, it is implied that Annie completely understands the depth of the relationship between Ellis and Michael, and when they drift apart, it is Annie who helps bring them back together, which makes it even more upsetting when we realise both Annie and Michael have passed away.
As the novel concludes, Ellis makes a trip to France to see where Michael lived and worked. The scene at the end of the book sees Ellis walk into the middle of the sunflower field and facing the sun.
“And he feels right. And he knows he’ll be all right. And that is enough.”
Why did I love Tin Man? It was seemingly a deceptively simple story, about Ellis, Michael and Annie, but Sarah Winman makes it so much more. It was about how love is at the centre of every choice we make, how it is part of our daily existence and how it makes us who we are.
Sarah Winman deftly shows us the beauty and pain of love as we have to carry on with our daily lives. It brings into focus the nature of our love, grief and how we really do have the power to change our lives. Tin Man is for me, about how our younger selves sees love in its simplest terms, the innocence of love and the strength of our belief in it. Quite simply, the love you feel for someone can be both the most exquisite and most painful feeling you can ever experience.