A classic of Australian literature, Cloudstreet tells the story of two families full of individuals with a very wide array of wondrous personalities who share a huge house in Perth over a 20 years period.
The first family we meet are the Pickles, who inherit the great big house upon the death of a relative who was sheltering them after the father lost the fingers of one hand in a work accident. They move from Geraldton to Perth to take possession. They must keep the house for at least 20 years without selling it. Sam, the father, is an inveterate gambler with bad luck, and while having a house is nice, the family still has no money to live on. To alleviate this problem, they decide to rent out part of the house.
So, the Lamb family moves in after abandoning their beach-side property after the near drowning of the favorite son, who emerges from the ordeal brain-damaged. They are very industrious, especially Oriel, the mother. She decides to open a general store in the front room and thanks to her dedication the family does well although they never become rich.
In spite of sharing this house, the two families never become close and are often quite at odds with each other and seem to love criticizing each other.
What is striking in this book is the depiction of family relationship. There seems to be a strong sense of loyalty to family, but little tenderness between family members. Both fathers are weak characters. In the case of Sam Pickles, gambling is the weakness. Lester Lamb, on the other hand, maybe a bit lazy but relies on his strong principles and religious background to guide his actions. He does tend to be indecisive to his wife’s great frustration.
In the end, the Pickles daughter marries one of the Lamb boys. They mean to move away to assert their independence but miss their respective families so much (as well as the great big house they both claim to despise so much) that they move back there, to new grand-parents great delight (they did miss having a “nipper” around).
You’ll need to find a good list of common Australian colloquial expressions to decipher some of the dialogue, but the authenticity of it is one of the great charms of this book.
Many thanks to my colleague Rebecca in Brisbane for recommending this book! Loved it!
A lot of clips from the TV series based on this book seem to be available on You Tube.