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.

3 thoughts on “Tinkers by Paul Harding

  1. Well done for reading all three in the week!

    I agree that the first seems the most appealing. I remember a sense of disappointment initially with the second story as it lacked the crystalline clarity of the first. It took a while to come to terms with having my own will-to-believe exposed to myself.

    I also wondered how much difference having the same translator for all three stories might have made?

    • Hi Simon,Thanks for your comment and for recommending the book – it really is exactly the kind of literature I love. Yes, it would be interesting to read all three by the same translator. I just wish I were prepared to spend the time it would take to read French properly in the original. Ah well.

  2. Hi Rebecca,

    I realise now that I posted a comment after the wrong book. Silly me!

    I’m sure that your French is way ahead of mine.

    It was Tom in Broadway Books that put the Kristof in my way. He seems to share an interest in the same kind of literature.

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