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3.8 out of 5 stars
3.8 out of 5 stars
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on 15 March 2009
This book was a disappointment, especially having enjoyed Tim Winton's Cloudstreet hugely. The worst thing was knowing from the outset exactly what was going to happen - if you've not read the book yet, then take my advice & just dive in without reading the back cover - as the central event in terms of the plot takes place quite a way through the book, and I think that sharing the main charachter's emotions at the point of discovery would go a long way to making his bizarre behaviour in the latter stages of the story more credible.

The first part of the book is infinitely more satisfying than the second, which stretches ones credulity to breaking point on several occasions. There's also an odd supernatural bit which, although it's echoed later on in the story, is never explained or explored and there seems no real reason for it being there, unless it's to underline Scully's similarity to his daughter & vice-versa - something that has already been copiously rammed down our throats.

Not Tim Winton's finest hour, although the first half of the novel is good. Unusually no-one in our bookgroup was really taken by this book - there's usually at least one person who really likes whatever we've read.
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on 17 March 2017
Whilst the writing is OK the book as a whole was a huge disappointment. The premise that Scully takes off and never gets a word out of his extremely mature 6/7 year old daughter as to the circumstances which lead to her arrival alone is lacking credibility The difference in perceptions which others have of his absent wife and their relationship and Scully's re-examination of past events would and should have been the central theme of the novel. This indeed is the aspect which is mentioned by the official reviewers but is merely a side note in the novel itself. Instead what you get is a superficial verbacious romp around Europe. Once again the rationale as to how and why this made the short list for the Booker has to be questioned as well as the favourable reviews given by the national press. It is a readable novel but not a great one and not worth the time spent reading it.
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on 30 March 2017
It was great to read a Tim Winton book not set in Australia - although the story is told through the eyes of Scully who is very Australian. The writing was good and I enjoyed the portrayal of Scully, the Irish postman and Scully's daughter Billie as well as the unfortunate Irma.
The problem is the plot line; there are a lot of things that are difficult to believe - Jennifer abandoning her daughter, Billie being unable to say anything about why her Mother had run off, why on earth you'd want to settle in remote Ireland on a whim etc etc. The riders seem to be a magical realism add-on - maybe they are symbolic of Scully seeing things that aren't really there, or the unattainable?
I didn't find the ending a disappointment and was willing to accept that he'd either failed or was seeking the impossible to start with.
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on 25 April 2013
The relationship between fictional characters and their imagined surroundings is always problematic, even when it is intended to be quite literal. It wouldn't be fiction if this were not the case. When the reader has to suspend disbelief, however, in order to accommodate the unlikely turns of plot, the writer might - although usually wrongly - be accused of artifice, of manipulation of the reader. This has never been a problem in opera, but it is in much fiction or film, or anywhere else that aspires to the label of realism. The fear that this manipulation might be happening became significant during Tim Winton's The Riders. The overall experience remained very positive, however, by virtue of the sheer brilliance of the writing and subtlety of phrase.

Scully is an Australian wanderer. He continually yearns for aspects of Fremantle in Western Australia, a geography he loves but, it seems, he is never likely to re-visit. We first meet him quite alone and involved in a renovation project in remote Ireland. Scully and his wife, Jennifer, have fallen in love with the rural west and have bought an abandoned dwelling. Scully is a builder, so the project is at least possible.

We soon learn that Ireland does not represent the start of the family's wanderings. There have been Bohemian times in Greece, France and Britain, on the islands and in Paris and London. The Bohemian element of the experience applied only, it seems, to Jennifer, Scully's wife, since he himself spent most of his time doing cash work on construction projects to buy the daily bread. And then there was Billie, the daughter who has grown up to the ripe old age of six apparently in spite of parental influence.

At the outset Scully is alone in Ireland with his renovation project. It's winter, and he has precious little in the way of either money or facilities. He soon befriends Peter, the local postman, and things get done. Some episodes from the first section of the story are brilliantly comic. We are soon impressed by Scully's dedication to his task, his resilience and his achievement. The day approaches when Jennifer and Billie will arrive from Oz.

Scully does not just love his wife. Worship might also be an under-statement. Jennifer seems to be the universe he inhabits and thus Tim Winton's novel, The Riders, becomes an investigation of obsession. It almost seems that Scully needs to live his own life through that of his wife and, when she doesn't turn up at the appointed time to join her husband in Ireland, Scully both perplexed and devastated, but also motivated - nay, driven - to find her.

Now here is where the suspension of disbelief has to begin. There has been little suggestion, thus far, that Jennifer is either personally unstable or a neglectful parent. But she abandons her daughter in London's Heathrow airport, leaves her husband and sets off alone, without even a word, a note or a reason. Most spouses, given such behaviour, might admit anger, pass judgment or even seek retribution - but not Scully. He merely packs his dumbfounded daughter into his van like so much baggage and worships his now estranged wife with even greater dedication.

Billie, the little girl, is only just about ready to embark upon a career as a primary school student. But she seems to display the capabilities, presence and sensibilities of maturity. She seems to have remembered everything from her past, including most of the people and experiences. She can organise her father, express complex emotions and handle travel arrangements. She gets practice with this skill because Scully immediately decides to trace his wife, despite the fact that he has neither information to follow nor reliable contacts to use.

He assumes that she will re-visit the family's recent haunts, and so Scully drags his initially muted daughter across Europe. They travel on the only shoe-string they have, take numerous unnecessary risks that do little except populate a plot. Along the way they fall victim to friendship, exploitation and crime. The little girl also seems to be very patient as her increasingly bedraggled father makes a fool of himself repeatedly.

But this is not comedy. It is apparently deadly serious. Overall the reader may feel that the garden path has been quite long, but the experience has been compelling, despite the characters' apparent compulsion to pursue a plot rather than a life. And beware, because garden paths do not usually go anywhere.
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on 13 December 2007
I finished this book last night and felt rather cheated! Please don't read this if you don't want to know what happens, but as others have already outlined it perhaps it is already too late!

You tear through the last few pages longing for some kind of conclusion and it just doesn't come. Maybe this is Tim Winton's way of saying that sometimes in life there is no conclusion but how annoying that is in a novel.

There are too many symbolic things which don't mean anything (or didn't to me!); the weird riders, the tree with the things stuck onto it and other short passages of writing which you had to skip as they just didn't make sense. You could tell the writing was good because there were lots of long words used in interesting ways but sometimes I felt they weren't there for any good reason - I just wanted to get to the essence of the story.

Also as someone has already said it was SOOOO annoying that Scully wouldn't talk properly to his old friends; everyone seemed to be speaking with double meanings and I kept wanting to shake them and say SPIT IT OUT! I think it would have been pretty impossible not to get more infuriated with Billie and her muteness.

I think maybe there are deeper layers and meanings that I (and most other reviewers here) didn't pick up on, maybe an A level English teacher would have been helpful to help me decipher the text and explain the symbolism!.... I enjoyed Dirt Music by the same author much more. It seemed much less pretentious.
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on 13 August 2003
There is so much that is strange and unresolved in this book. So many questions are posed and left unanswered, that I feel I ought to hate it. In theory it is in many ways deeply unsatisfying and I don't even particularly like Scully as a character. But somehow The Riders continues to haunt me and stay with me in a way that many novels don't - i can't put my finger on what makes it work, but despite everything it does. Perhaps it is that you question why on earth Scully does what he does, and nag away at the problem, rather than just reject it as implausible. Don't read this with any expectations and you'll probably get on with it better: be prepared to be provoked and troubled. What is clear though is that Tim Winton remains a serious and challenging writer - I'm just about to read Dirt Music so very curious to see what that is like.
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on 17 July 2004
I felt that this book was very well written and very intriging story line. I felt that Scully's search to find his wife was so one-sided in the fact that she didn't want to be followed and even though those around him told him so, he would not give up. Billie was his silent guide somewhat throughout the novel. I did not understand the name of the title untill the very end in the sense that The riders are people who are continuously looking for those they have loved, and that Billie would not let Scully become one of them. I really enjoyed this book and would recommend it to all who enjoy a good read. I however would recommend it to those older than 14 because of some of the sexual descriptions. Age 16
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on 6 February 2004
What "The Riders" and "Dirt music" have in common is not only the fact of having been shortlisted for the Booker Prize, but also the same narrative structure: from a settled, apparently well defined situation the plot evolves into the disintegration of a journey, a wandering across (in both cases) a whole continent.
In the first part of "The Riders", the main character Scully is working in an old house which is to become the home of his family, who is supposed to join him soon from Australia. But since it's only his daughter Billie who eventually shows up at Shannon airport, this expectation of stability is frustrated and swiftly replaced by a frantic movement.
In my opinion "The Riders" and "Dirt music" both have a weak plot. In "The Riders", it is precisely what puts in motion the all thing that is not convincing: would a person really set off wandering about countries in search of his wife like that, without first trying to know from his daughter (who knows all) what has really happened? Could one possibly accept so stoically such strange silence from his child, without doing anything to know the truth?
The book is nonetheless well written and, I think, worth reading. I liked the way it ended, which is may be a little bit disappointing for the well-meaning reader; the book, however, is essentially about the relationship between a father and a daughter; it is about the blindness induced by love, and the slow and painful process of becoming conscious again, re-opening eyes, realizing how much love has misled us and made us misjudge people, especially those we love. This is way it was not necessary to give Scully's wife a face or a voice of her own.
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on 6 September 1997
said the Australian in his broad accent, and then swallowed. I was worried for his health, having been told as a child never to awllow chewing gum as it would stay in my stomach for 7 years and wrap around my intestines. Winton was wearing jeans, and maroon suit jacket and cowboy boots. His here extended to his waist. He was not what I had expected, but then I wasn't sure what I had expected: I knew he was a house-husband, surfer, born again Xtian, surfer, and award winning author. I also knew Cloudstreet was the best book I had read in '95.
Winton was on a promotional tour of New Zealand for The Riders and he visited the University I was studying at. I guess I'm digressing big time here, so I'd better get to the point. Sure enough, in the course of his visit, someone asked what happened to Fred Scully's wife (as I noticed a few people have done here).
To me this really is missing the point of the story. The story isn't about what happened to the wife, or about the wife at all, its about Scully. Winton depicts characters (and his really are "characters' - good Ozzie blokes) in a way that resounds with truth and sincerity. He pulls no punches and shoots form the heart. Riders is a beautiful story in terms of description, yet stormy (without wanting to be too obvious metaphorically obvious) in terms of plot. Support Australasian authors, read it.
PS: Winton's reply to the question re: Sully's wife, a perfect "I don't know".
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on 1 June 1999
Winton is clearly an outstanding writer. I could not put this book down, and yet I continually felt a little at sea, wishing someone would explain to me what was going on. The book is written with such passion that the reader enters into a kind of situational madness, in which she or he descends with the protagonist, Scully, into the emotionally-charged confusion brought about when his wife disappears. Apparently she has abandoned him and their child, but why, and for what? Scully chases around Europe with their child as he tries to find his wife and the answers to these questions. I only wish Winton had cleared up more of the mystery.
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