When Sarah Winman’s Tin Man landed on my desk, I had no idea what to expect from the author’s third novel. It was a gorgeous, bright yellow hardback with an intriguing yet ambiguous blurb that gave very little away: “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 like those fifteen sunflowers, Tin Man sparkles with a timeless beauty that few other authors can invoke.
The story explores the relationship between two boys as they grow up and apart and back together, their relationship ebbing and flowing with the years. As boys, Ellis and Michael came into each other’s lives and were as close as two people could be. But those boys became men and those men met Annie, who later marries Ellis. The three of them share a tight bond but Michael pulls away for reasons he both understands and doesn’t, and when he returns it’s like nothing ever changed, except it has.
Part of the story is told through Ellis’ older eyes, as he recovers from a bicycle accident and muses over the two loves of his life. The other part is conveyed through Michael’s thoughts, revealing where he went when he ‘abandoned’ Ellis and Annie, and who he chose to spend the years in between with. The novel takes us through the streets of Oxford with Ellis, and across Europe with Michael, but it’s when they’re together, with and without Annie, that the heart of the tale beats the strongest.
“He thought they looked so happy, and he thought they were family, and he wanted to show that in the photograph. They were all that mattered on that hot sunny evening in June 1991.”
Tin Man is disarmingly lovely and unequivocally heart breaking; a melancholy love story between three people that plays out across various time frames and through more than one perspective. Sexual orientation doesn’t matter here; love is love – it’s cruel, it’s divine, it breaks you and puts you back together again, and all these different facets of emotion come across in perfect harmony. It’s impossible not to fall for these characters; they’re so real, so fragile, and so human.
There aren’t very many books like this and it makes the experience of reading Winman’s words so special. Her fiction runs along the page like poetry and she writes the type of sentences you want to read out loud because they roll off the tongue so beautifully. There’s so much feeling in this story and it’s all explored with such tender honesty. Every moment, big and small, feels impossibly important and the fact that it manages to have such an impact without spilling over the 200-page mark is testament to Winman’s excellent and emotive writing.
Forget every other novel released this month and just read Tin Man, it’s the perfect tale of love, loss and life.
Tin Man is published by Tinder Press on 27 July 2017