She – Mary Horton – a 43 year old straight-laced spinster with two houses but no space for love or friendship.
He – Tim Melville – a 25 year old young man with Greek God looks and the brain of a child.
Tim by Colleen McCullough has to be one of the most unlikely love-stories. In this debut novel McCullough crafts her characters with meticulous care and so much love that you cannot but be moved.
Writing about a character such as Tim is a challenging task because you have so much to say you don’t know where to start. You desperately want your readers to feel about him just as you do and you struggle to find words to say it all and worry, wondering if you will ever do it justice.
I am going to try, though.
Mary spots Tim first at her neighbour’s house where he’s part of a construction crew and is entranced by his stunning looks. Later, she calls him over to help her with her garden and then at her beach house. Thus starts a relationship that has friendship, affection and love put together in an inextricable, heartwarming mix.
For a casual observer there is nothing right with the relationship. The two are no match in physical appearance, mental capabilities, financial or social status. They bond on a purely emotional level.
When I started out reading the book, to me Mary seemed the sole ‘giver’ in the relationship. What could a mentally challenged boy offer a self-made, confident, affluent, educated woman? The only thing missing in her life, perhaps to an outsider, would be the love of family and friends but not to Mary. She fills her life with work, an extensive personal library of good books and good music. Mary Horton is satisfied, even pleased, with the way she has built her life.
Then along comes Tim. His heart winning innocence makes you love him and want to take care of him. He worms his way into Mary’s heart picking away at her defenses, setting her at ease, urging her to loosen up and awakening her dead heart without even being aware of it. He brings colour to her home as to her life. Her feelings for him change from pity to protectiveness to love.
He becomes an integral part of her life as she becomes his.
A word about Tim – he has been brought up to successfully handle his day-to-day life. He can travel on the bus on his own and earn his living as a construction worker. He is aware that he isn’t the ‘full-quid’, as he puts it. He has a naturally sunny disposition and the only thing that upsets him is when he cannot understand a joke or a remark – the feeling of being shut out because of his impaired brain. With Mary he never feels that.
In the end I think this was as equal a relationship as it can get. When Mary’s boss who’s the closest thing she has for a friend, suggests she marry him her response is, “How can I possibly marry a mentally retarded boy young enough to be my son? It’s criminal… I’m a sour, ugly old maid, no fit partner for Tim.” She doesn’t mince her words or spare her feelings.
His reply puts their relationship in perspective:
“…. I defy anyone to explain what one person sees in another…. Whatever you think you are, Tim thinks you are something quite different and much more desirable. You said you didn’t know what on earth he saw in you, that whatever it was you couldn’t see it yourself. Be grateful for that!”
Those were my absolute favourite lines.
Nope, this isn’t a story of romantic love but it most definitely is a love-story. To find someone to love you more than you do yourself – if that’s not love, what is?
PS: The book was made into a film starring Mel Gibson and Piper Laurie. I remember watching bits of it long ago and didn’t quite like it because the Tim I’d made up in my mind was way more handsome and younger too.
PPS: Read the book also for a host of wonderfully etched supporting characters and beautiful descriptions of Australia.
Linking up to ABC Wednesday. Do drop by and take a look at what others have come up with the letter T.