Tinkers – Paul Harding

I can’t lie to any of you… the reason that I sat down to read ‘Tinkers’ by Paul Harding was because of the stunning cover! It simply makes you want to read it. There is of course that other small factor of a ‘Pulitzer Prize for Fiction’ with this book that makes it of interest. Not that I really know what I should be getting with a Pulitzer Prize winning book. In fact I had to have a look back at previous winners I had read and what a mixed bunch they were. The immense ‘To Kill A Mockingbird’, the utterly excellent ‘The Road’, the really rather good ‘Breathing Lessons’, the not half bad ‘Empire Falls’ and the prose filled ‘Gilead’ that I wasn’t sure I would like. Which category would ‘Tinkers’, the latest winner of the prize, find itself in?

‘Tinkers’ is an interesting little book (in many ways made me think of previous Pulitzer winner ‘Gilead’) in fact it almost verges on novella over novel and its nearly 200 pages but they aren’t all that big. I couldn’t tell initially if this book was really going to grate on me to start with. First off the book opens as a dying man, George, as he hallucinates that his house is falling down on him soon followed by the clouds and the sky. An interesting opening but one that I will admit had me confused and the initial confusion didn’t stop there are by a break in paragraphs you are drawn into the life of Georges father, Howard, a ‘tinker’ or a man of odd jobs or a pedlar, here and there with no warning of whose life you have stepped into quite when and where. Interweave these two tales with excerpts of a textbook on watches George owns and some notes on all things nature (which I am still not sure who wrote exactly) and eventually you have the tale of a dying man, his father and the childhood he had in the woodlands of Maine.

This isn’t really a book for those people who love plot because really there isn’t one. There are snippets of two lives and how they interconnected and in some ways how they didn’t. There is the occasional tale within the tale and one in particular of Howard and a hermit, which reads like a fable, is possibly one of my favourite mini-stories in a story of the year so far. The book definitely makes you think. In fact Harding’s debut novel is probably one of the most emotional books that I have read in quite some time, when I wasn’t a little lost (which is why this book fell short a little for me, but I will re-read it one day). It looks at life, it looks at death and in a strange way all that lies in between.

Harding’s prose is stunning; there is absolutely no other word for it. If you want a book that reads like the finest poetry without the rhyming or rhythm then this is definitely a book for you. I am in fact wondering if it’s the spell that Harding’s writing casts over the reader that makes it so difficult to put it down, though you do need a break now and again as it gets quite heavy emotionally, for a book that has no page turning plot I didn’t half get drawn in and read the book in a few sittings. I can’t say it was my favourite book of the year so far but it’s possibly one of the best, if not the best, examples of the written word and what it can do that I have seen if that makes sense? It’s certainly had an effect on me and I will definitely be reading Harding’s next novel.

A book that will: either bore you silly with its prose, if you are looking for a big plot, or haunt you with it and subtley leave you thinking. It was thethe latter of the two for me. 8/10

I am not going to do any suggestions for this book as its quite unlike anything I have read before, I want to compare it to ‘Gilead’ but that seems a little bit of a lazy comparison for some reason. Who else has read ‘Tinkers’? Whose been wanting too since it won the Pulitzer? Why is it winning an award can make a book we have never heard of or possibly not been that bothered about reading a must read? More thoughts on book prizes and awards tomorrow…


Filed under Paul Harding, Review, William Heinemann Books

17 responses to “Tinkers – Paul Harding

  1. Oo… I saw this in a shop the other day and was planning on hunting it down in the library, then someone told me it was awful. But I value your opinion rather more than him, cos I’d never met him before! This sounds exactly my sort of thing – language is way above plot on my list of priorities.

    • EllenB

      Read this, Simon T. It will stay with you long after finishing it. It has been months and can’t get it out of my mind. Its all about the language.

      • Thanks for the encouragement! I think I will hunt it down… the man who didn’t like it *did* really like one of the worst books I’ve ever started, so..

      • Simon I would definitely agree with Ellen, give this one a try, maybe see if the library has it as then you can give it back/havent spent any money on a book you’re a little worried about.

  2. Am going to Chennai next week. This is going on my shopping list! Thanks.

  3. I have read very mixed reviews on this one but I think Im more likely to enjoy it than not. Im quite happy to read a book without much plot.

  4. I haven’t read Tinkers yet, but I do keep an eye out for Pulitzer winners generally because I tend to like them. Of course, I’m saving Gilead for when I’m feeling brave and in the mood for something a little slower. Sounds like I should do the same with Tinkers.

    • I prefered Tinkers to Gilead… I think. They arent similar but they are, hence why I couldnt quite work out if I should suggest them as prose partners. Actually possibly best not as you may end up in a huge slump with these as they are beautifully slow.

  5. I read Tinkers in January and it is still in my thoughts. If you are interested my brief review is here.

  6. Will definitely be purchasing this book – sounds brilliant!

  7. Ti

    I read Tinkers. I enjoyed it quite a bit but as you said, it’s not heavy on plot so it probably won’t appeal to readers that desire it.

    Here’s my review if you’d like to take a look:


    I was lucky enough to hear Harding speak at the LA Times Fesitval of Books and his wit and humor surprised me, because they don’t really comes across in this particular book.

    • Oh I shall pop and have a look at that later Ti as am very keen to see what other people have thought of it.

      I do find seeing an author can add something to their books… or in some cases seriously ditract.

  8. I agree with you on the confusion front, but also on the breathtaking beauty of Harding’s language. Ultimately this book just didn’t do it for me (I suspect I need more plot), but it has kept creeping back into my mind. I think I might leave it 6 months or so then give it a second read – I reckon it will have matured on me.

    My review is here… http://bit.ly/c5hDFn

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