Book Review: Tin Man by Sarah Winman

Tin Man – Sarah Winman (Viking, 2017)

Michael and Ellis were best friends. Meeting at twelve-years-old, bonding over abusive fathers and a love of art and beauty in an era when boys should be paying attention to other things. They grew up to be best friends, spending all their time together, sharing nearly every aspect of their lives, absorbing Ellis’ wife, Annie, into their intense friendship. And then Michael disappeared and years went by without them speaking.

The book presents this as some sort of mystery. What happened between these two close friends? In actuality, I found it pretty obvious what was coming and why their friendship might have faltered.

The first section of the book focuses on Ellis, an older man, living alone after the death of his wife. He is somewhat isolated, numb to the world. He looks back at his life, his love for Annie, his friendship with Michael, and we learn some of their history together. The second section is a journal of sorts from Michael, written in the years in which the two friends were apart.

By the end of the book I was left thinking, Why this story? Why these characters? I’m not sure what story this was supposed to be telling. It turns out there is no great mystery, no shocking twist. And while that’s more realistic, what makes this then a tale worth telling. It doesn’t seem mysterious to me that the intensity of childhood friendship fades, that people drift apart. Even (and maybe especially) when you add the complication of a homosexual love triangle. (I’m not sure if that’s a spoiler because it seemed pretty obvious to me from the book’s blurb that this was where the book was heading.)

The greatest mystery, I thought, was the character of Annie. She has a lot of depth in some ways and in others is an afterthought, an addition to create drama. She seamlessly joins in on the friendship between Ellis and Michael and apparently has no friends or family or history of her own. She seems to understand that her husband and his best friend have a sexual history and has no issue with it. This seemed both unrealistic from a cultural standpoint (this would have been in about the 1970s) and also simply from the perspective that most people don’t want their partners’ previous romantic partners hanging around.

I think this is supposed to be a story of what might have been, of how we make choices and how, sometimes, choices are made for us. There are glimpses of potential here but overall I felt like the execution fell short.

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7 thoughts on “Book Review: Tin Man by Sarah Winman”

  1. I enjoyed this when I read it, but like you, I wasn’t as impacted as most readers seem to be, and was left wanting more. I thought it was heartfelt, but didn’t add anything particularly original to the genre.

  2. Hmm… does seem as if there’s not much of a story here and certainly not much of a mystery. I’d guessed before you even told us! Oh well, hope your next one is a more fulfilling read…

    1. People seem divided on this one – I do know some people who liked it a lot but I know I’m not alone in being disappointed. Oh well, on to the next one!

  3. We studied this for my book club, and I later interviewed Sarah when she was here in Calgary for wordfest. I don’t disagree with anything you’ve written here BUT I did enjoy the book. LIke you, I was hoping for a little more of a mystery or twist, but I suppose we need to look to other books for that kind of excitement LOL

    I loved her first book, When God was a Rabbit-have you read that one?

    1. I think my expectations were somewhat based on what I’d been told by others – that there was this twist. But then the twist was so obviously what it was going to be and yet the book seemed like it was setting it up as a surprise. I did think there was some beautiful writing to it. I haven’t read When God was a Rabbit but might have to check that one out too.

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