Tim Winton's Breath, winner of the Miles Franklin Literary Award, is a story about the wildness of youth and learning to live with its passing.
Tim Winton has published twenty-six books for adults and children, and his work has been translated into twenty-eight languages. Since his first novel, An Open Swimmer, won the Australian Vogel Award in 1981, he has won the Miles Franklin Award four times (for Shallows,Cloudstreet, Dirt Music and Breath) and twice been shortlisted for the Booker Prize (for The Riders and Dirt Music). He lives in Western Australia. Find out more on Facebook
This slender book packs an emotional wallop. Two thrill-seeking boys, Bruce and Loonie, are young teenagers in smalltown Australia, circa the early 1970s. Their attraction is focused on the water--ponds, rivers, the sea--but they do little more than play around until they fall in with a mysterious, older man named Sando. He recognizes their daredevil wildness and takes it upon himself to teach them to surf. As the boys become more skilled, their exploits become more reckless; narrator Bruce (nicknamed "Pikelet") has doubts about where all this is heading, while the aptly named Loonie wants only bigger and bolder thrills. This mix of doubt and desire intensifies when the boys make a discovery about their mentor's past. Surfing isn't the only dangerous game in town. As Sando's attentions and favor flip-flop from one boy to the other, the rivalry between the two, present from the beginning, grows stronger and more sinister. Sando's American wife, Eva, becomes more of a presence, too. She walks with a limp, has plenty of secrets of her own and becomes increasingly involved in Pikelet's life, in ways that even a 15-year-old might recognize as not entirely appropriate. Winton's language, often terse, never showy, hovers convincingly between a teenager's inarticulateness and the staccato delivery of a grown man: "So there we were, this unlikely trio. A select and peculiar club, a tiny circle of friends, a cult, no less. Sando and his maniacal apprentices." The language manages to summon up both the uncertain teenager and the jaded adult: "It transpired that I was not, after all, immune to a dare," Pikelet tells us at one point, with both the breathtaking unawareness of the boy and the irony of the man. Told from the perspective of the narrator's present life as a paramedic, Breath aims to recapture a long-passed episode in a boy's life and show how this shaped the man he grew into. The story contemplates what it means to be less ordinary in an era when "extreme" sports hadn't even been recognized. (The fear of being ordinary is one of the terrors that drives these daredevils to push themselves ever further.) The author of 13 previous books, Winton is well-known in Australia and should be here. He touches upon important themes, of death, life, breathing and its absence, while looking dispassionately upon the relentless pursuit of thrills, pleasure, sex, status: the mundane obsessions of the ordinary and extraordinary alike. David Maine is the author of Fallen; The Book of Samson; and, most recently, Monster, 1959. Copyright 2008 Reed Business Information.
Adult/High School-This novel transforms the dangers of surfing and thrill-seeking into a powerful metaphor for the transition from childhood to adulthood. Bruce "Pikelet" Pike and his friend Loonie, both 12, are looking for a way of life different from what home and school offer them. Living in a small, working-class town on the west coast of Australia in the 1970s, they turn to surfing as their escape. At first, they manage little beyond paddling offshore on flimsy boards. But everything changes when they meet Sando, an aging hippie-guru with a love of sports and danger. He takes the boys under his wing, first by letting them store their boards at his home and later by encouraging them to chase after increasingly dangerous waves. Ordinary life becomes boring and colorless to the boys when compared to the magic they feel when blasting through the churning water. The surfing sequences are beautifully and excitingly described, giving an easy hook to an otherwise emotionally complicated novel. Jealousy enters the relationship when Sando takes Loonie on a surfing tour through the Pacific Islands, leaving Pikelet behind with Sando's bitter wife. The two bond through their pain at being left behind and question the place of thrill-seeking in their lives. Their friendship takes a sexual turn, making this novel best for more mature teens. Told as a retrospective tale, Winton's story mixes the frenetic excitement and confusion of adolescence with the perspective and wisdom of adulthood, making this book a unique reading experience.-Matthew L. Moffett, Pohick Regional Library, Burke, VA Copyright 2008 Reed Business Information.
In desolate Western Australia, two teenaged boys are mesmerized by charismatic big-wave surfer Sando. With a national tour. Copyright 2008 Reed Business Information.
It's hard to think of an Australian writer, other than Peter Carey, who has pushed the boundaries of his fiction more emphatically than Tim Winton. It's now more than 25 years since An Open Swimmer won the Vogel award, and a wonderful outpouring of novels, short stories, and children's books followed. Always a writer for a big canvas, Winton has drawn on the natural world and the seascape in particular, consistently since that first book, through Cloudstreet and Dirt Music and The Turning for inspiration and evocation. What to make of Breath, then, his first novel in seven years? Again, Winton's gift for rendering something extraordinary out of ordinary lives is beautifully apparent. Again, that poetic rejoicing in the heroic freedom and power of nature is there. And again, the intense preoccupation with emotional challenges of characters connecting, surviving, redeeming their lives somehow is as intense and powerful as ever. This is a simple enough story on the surface: a coming-of-age tale set in a small community on the West Australian coast. Pikelet (that's the inspired name of our first-person narrator) is a loner, an only child to shy parents. His life and growth through adolescence is figured largely through his connection to the sea, and surfing in particular. I can't imagine anybody writing better about surfing than Winton, both as an amazing physical experience and a spiritual rite of passage, and it's a risky feat of fiction to devote so much of a short novel to such an intense process. But it's his gift to take such breathtaking and unrelenting natural forces and work his characters' place in relation to them that makes Winton such an exceptional writer. On its own however, that achievement, bold as it is, wouldn't set him apart. As is often the case in Winton's work, there are only a few characters in the novel and here their relationships are viewed through the recall of a middle-aged narrator. The wild, wild sea is what might connect them on the surface, but the one word title of the book holds a clue to so much more. Because so much of life happens below the surface and to survive one must draw breath. Pikelet survives, but the pain and the wounds, the emotional suffering are all too evident. This is as powerful and heart-rending a story about youth as you'll find. It will stay with you. David Gaunt is co-owner of Gleebooks in Sydney