Tinkers by Paul Harding

Tinkers is a brilliantly understated title for a quiet book with wide impact. Like a pebble dropped into a pond, the waves of sound and motion it creates grow ever wider.

The focal point of the novel is George’s sick bed. He starts out in a bed at home surrounded by his family, wife, sister, children and grandchildren. From there we follow the history of dying George back through his father, Howard, and Howard’s father the Minister, in an organic meandering that tinkers with memory, character, time and text. Different voices interject the narrative. We move between third and first person, between present and past as if a second or third pebble were dropped into the pool and their waves crossed paths and merged into each other. That George repairs clocks only enriches this interlacing of times, peoples, thoughts.

George tinkers with clocks and builds his own house. Howard tinkers by selling supplies to isolated farms and vagrants from a horse drawn cart. Howard’s father turns the world into a mystery of poetry and God that, for Howard at least, tinkers with existence, with presence and absence. All three are drawn to the physical magic of the natural world.

At one point in the novel, George tries to run away from home. Howard comes after him and finds him huddled in the remains of an old burnt house. He looks at his son and sees him ‘already fading’ (p120) into death:

“Everything is made to perish; the wonder of anything at all is that it has not already done so. No, he thought. The wonder of anything is that it was made in the first place. What persists beyond this cataclysm of making and unmaking?” (p119-120)

What indeed?

Tinkers is a thought provoking, expertly written novel that embraces the beauty of craft. I will definitely read it again.

Next week I’m reading The Notebook by Agota Kristof. Any comments or reading suggestions are very welcome.

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