Fred Scully’s life is turned upside-down by secrets. In the opening chapters of Tim Winton’s, The Riders, Scully doggedly repairs a derelict old farmhouse in the Irish hinterlands while he waits for his wife and seven year old daughter to settle up the family’s accounts in Australia. The three of them had spent the prior two years traveling around Greece, Paris, and London- Scully picking up any profession he could to support his wife’s ever changing artistic endeavors. When Scully travels to the airport to pick the two of them up, however, only his daughter, Billie, is there. His wife has vanished.
The remainder of the book follows Scully and Billie’s frantic search to uncover Jennifer’s whearabouts, and the secrets that might have made her leave.
At this point the novel takes on the tone of a fast past thriller in which mysteries are lurking beneath the everyday surface of the characters’ lives. The solid, easygoing, trusting nature of Scully’s character is broken apart and everything that he once trusted (his wife, her love for him, their friends, even his love for her) becomes shadowy and insubstantial. As Scully and Billie fly frenetically about the continent, they begin to question not only the reasons for Jennifer’s defection, but also the reality of their own past- was their entire existence a lie? had they missed the truth all along?
The Riders is ultimately a meditation on love- when it is too much, when it is not enough, when it is real. Scully had dedicated the entire purpose of his existence to his love for Jennifer and when she abandoned him, he is left adrift, with only his daughter to anchor him.
The beauty of this book is that the readers, too, are adrift. Winton’s prose is lucid and mesmerizing, but the action and the explaination of the novel are all kept deliberately murky. It is never clear either to the readers or to Scully what might be truth and what is his own paranoid dillusion. Like the eponymous ‘riders’ of the title, Scully spends his entire life waiting (for Jennifer, for the answers, for love) and we wait right along with him until both he, and we, must discover our own truths in the end.