Jaxie Clackton is on the run, having found his father crushed to death under a Toyota Hilux. It’s an accident, but young Jaxie is convinced it won’t be viewed as such by the locals, who were all aware how savagely Sid Clackton beat his teenage son and late wife. They won’t need much convincing to believe it’s murder. So Jaxie hurriedly packs for an immediate departure — leave some vital pieces of kit behind — and vanishes into the harsh desert, whereupon he eventually happens across an old shepherd’s hut with a single, strange occupant named Fintan MacGillis; a priest with a dark secret. And whose secluded home might not be the safe haven it initially appears to be.
Jaxie is a product of his childhood. He has grown up surrounded by violence, and the tools of violence. He is an angry young man, and he stays angry, throughout the text, until its end and presumably into the future. There were long periods I hated this young protagonist. I empathised with his plight, and understood where his rage stemmed from. But there were times, nonetheless, when I might’ve hoped the harsh desert landscape would swallow him whole. This, despite his honest appraisal of himself, and his own awareness at his inherent brokeness. But I couldn’t repel the book’s hold over me.
The Shepherd’s Hut is brutal. Bruisingly so. It is a masterly encapsulation of toxic masculinity. This is Winton covering familiar territory, but it’s injected with an urgency, a sense of constant, inescapable threat that adds up to a taut page-turner.