Book Review: Tin Man by Sarah Winman

In the front bedroom, propped up among the books, is a color photograph of three people, a woman and two men. They are tightly framed, their arms around one another, and the world beyond is out of focus, and the world on either side excluded. They look happy, they really do. Not just because they are smiling but because there is something in their eyes, an ease, a joy, something they share.

A heartbreaking tale of love, friendship and loss, Tin Man tells the story of Ellis and Michael and the intimate bond they shared which knitted them together for a lifetime while also exposing the very differences that would one day drive them apart.

The two boys meet one fated evening, following the death of Michael’s father, where Ellis was asked to bridge the gap between young boy and aged caretaker. This evening serves as the birthplace for what proves to be an endearing and fraught friendship.

It was Mabel who asked him to join her the night Michael arrive in Oxford after his father’s death. A friendly face of similar age to her grandson. He remembered standing where he was standing now. Him and Mabel, the welcome party. Both nervous, both quiet. The streets silenced by snow.

The narrative oscillates between past and present—slowly uncovering the people Ellis and Michael have become while revealing the special memories they created together in youth. They construct their bond over shared tragedy, unique affinities and the endless horizon of unexplored desire that morphs into something deeper before they are even aware.

And when the house fell silent they shared a bed. They kissed, took off their tops. And Ellis couldn’t believe a body could feel so good when an hour before he was in despair.

However, it is clear from the beginning of the story that Ellis and Michael find themselves estranged in adulthood. The remainder of the novel serves to fit together the puzzle pieces, from both perspectives, that led to the unravelling of one cherished friendship.

And he did come back. Every weekend. Until Mabel died, and then he didn’t. He disappeared into the millions of others who walked those crowded London streets, and Ellis never knew why.

Absorbing and atmospheric, Tin Man tackles the often unexplored male sensitivity and examines life after loss and the budding sexual identity of young men. The story is peppered with bright spots that provide a hopeful color among the heartache, and it is these bits that help to round out the novel until the bittersweet end.

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A review copy of this title was provided by G.P. Putnam’s Sons

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