Tin Man - Sarah Winman ****
I'm not sure what format the published edition will take, but the advance proof of Tin Man is a beautiful little bright yellow clothbound hardcover without a dust-jacket. A little white heart is etched in the corner, It's "a celebration of the transcendent power of the colour yellow", in the words of Sarah Winman, a description she applies to the use of colour in Van Gogh's Sunflowers. Or, to be precise, to a painted copy of Van Gogh's Sunflowers, a painting won as a prize in a raffle by Ellis Judd's mum, Dora when she was pregnant with him in 1950.
In 1996 however, which is the present day as far as the majority of Tin Man is concerned, the painting adored by his mother is now just a memory of a troubled family life that has finally taken its toll on the 46 year old Ellis, who has spend the majority of them working in the car plant in Cowley, hammering out little bumps in the body work. Like a series of doors, all of the openings towards love and happiness have been shut one by one; the early death of his mother, his relationship with his father, his friendship with Michael and his marriage to Annie, have eventually denied him.
Representing a specific need at each stage of his life however, the relationships Ellis has found have each offered a different type of love, each of them offering him glimpses of who he is, of the potential for happiness and love that exists, even if it so often proves to be elusive or transitory. Those brief moments however stand out from the admittedly often bleak situations described by Winman in Tin Man; a moment of intimacy with Michael, the beginnings of his romance with Annie, an improvised trip to Venice, or a trip to Oxford.
These are the moments that shine out like "the transcendent power of the colour yellow"; like Van Gogh's Sunflowers, like the artist's own journey South to Arles, these are the moments that we live for. Their brightness is not tainted by the surrounding darkness of the emptiness that now fills the days of the older man, but Ellis knows that he can no longer remain still and needs to make his own metaphorical or literal journey to Arles. His discovery of some old sketchbooks and Michael's diary of his 'lost years' point him in the right direction.
As opportune as this is for filling in some blanks for Ellis, Michael's journals are no leisure trip either, but rather those of a gay man in the late eighties who has seen too much illness and death in others around him. But the latter half of Tin Man is much more than another catalogue of the ravages of the AIDS epidemic. Michael's story might seem like that of a man coming to terms with his sexuality and disappointments over the direction his life has taken, but like Ellis, it's more about coming to accept the deeper reality of who we really are how friendship can help us endure the loneliness of a journey that we can only really take ourselves. For such a slim novel, Winman's Tin Man undertakes an enormous journey and documents its revelations movingly and with precision.
Tin Man by Sarah Winman is published by Tinder Press on 27th July 2017
Tin Man - Sarah Winman ****