Breath – Tim Winton

When I heard that Tim Winton’s ‘Breath’ had won the Miles Franklin award my first instinct was ‘what award is that?’ It transpires that it is a prize awarded to the best Australian book or play “portraying Australian life in any of its phases” (is it just me or should we not have one of these in the UK) looking through the list of previous winners I had to say I had only heard of Peter Carey and Thomas Keneally both of whom I have on the TBR pile also. My second reaction was “I think I need to read this book and soon” so I did.

From just after the opening sequence, a shocker I can tell you, at the start if the novel you can see why ‘Breath’ won the Miles Franklin Award. The book opens with our narrator, a paramedic, arriving at the scene of what appears to be an adolescent’s suicide and yet Brucie Pike is aware that it is in fact an act of auto- asphyxiation. From this shocking scene Brucie, now in his fifties, starts looking back of the summers of his ‘coming of age’ when he discovered surfing and sex.

One summer Brucie, or Pikelet as he if often called, becomes accidental friends with Loonie (a name that truly suits the crazed character) a friendship that his parents don’t really approve of as in a small town like Sawyer people talk and discussions involving Loonie and his father never seem to be too positive. The boys don’t care and through a love of dare devil diving, the deeper longer and more dangerous the better, build their friendship and find a new mutual love… surfing. The bigger the waves, the more risks of death and the more sharks the better as far as Loonie is concerned and here we see the friendship rocked slightly both by the arrival of Sando (an older surfing idol) and the fact that Loonie starts to want to take risks everywhere such as playing ‘William Tell’ with a dartboard or seeing how close he can get to his toes with an axe.

The somwhat invited infiltration to the duo by Sando is what starts to really test their friendship as both boys fight for his attention. Eventually the boys start taking trips with him and borrowing boards from his house under the watchful and untrusting eye of his wife Eva. Eva herself is a very complex character living through a trust fun of her fathers after her professional skiing days ended up giving her a crushed kneepad and some small mental disturbances that become more apparent as the story develops.

As Brucie’s fear builds up of the waves and the crazy path his life is taking Sando starts to neglect him in favour of Loonie who he takes on surfing expeditions around the world leaving Brucie and his wife Eva out in the cold with only each other for comfort which then become the darkest and most graphic part of the book leading to a chilling ending. I shall say no more than that for fear of giving anything away, but I was shocked and actually found some of it very hard to read, though if you can manage it do because its powerful stuff.

This book has been labelled a ‘coming of age tale’ (a label I don’t like and in fact puts me off a book) and though it is indeed about two boys becoming men it is also very much about the accidental meetings of four people all with one thing in common which is they have no fear and as the author says “no moral compass about the consequences of living”. You as the reader are simply taken along for the thrill and fall of it all.

I am actually finding it really interesting and refreshing that some slightly darker and more controversial (with being so just for the sake of it) books like this are winning more awards. Recently ‘The Slap’ (which I am desperate to get my hands on) by Christos Tsiolkas won the Commonwealth Writers Prize. I hope the Man Booker judges choose some slightly ‘out there’ books this year, especially as I am planning on reading as many as I can!

17 Comments

Filed under Picador Books, Review, Tim Winton

17 responses to “Breath – Tim Winton

  1. Sounds great! I’m planning to start my Tim Winton reading with Cloudstreet – hopefully sometime this week.

    I’m really hoping for some interesting reads in the Booker list too. I’m planning to read the short list as soon as it is announced, and any of the long list which sound interesting.

    You can order The Slap from New Zealand (I found fishpond to be the cheapest) it cost me £17 and only took 5 days to arrive – you can sell it on for a profit if you need to justify the cost!

  2. I think I ma going to hold off from The Slap though after your review I am very intrigued! I am to try and do the longlist, but found doing the shortlist with the Orange books not a chore exactly but it made reading more regimented and less of a whim which I didnt like. We will see.

  3. caroline

    I agree with your view of Breath. I heard this book serialised on the radio some time ago and rushed out to read it for myself.

    I am now working my way through Tim Winton’s previous books.Really like this author.

  4. This is a really great review! I’m always excited when people from outside Australia read Australian authors, and particularly Tim Winton, because I think he’s so brilliant 😀

    Breath definitely isn’t my favourite of his, but I do think it’s one of the best he’s written. He’s completely in control of his craft, and his characterisation is excellent. Some parts were definitely a bit hard-going to read, but well worth it in the end.

    And the thing I love most about Tim Winton is he’s just so ordinary! I’ve seen him speak on quite a few occasions over the years, and he’s completely unassuming and down to earth, and always seems very surprised that 100s of people have come just to see him 🙂

    Ok, gushing over now!

    • Hahahaha Megan how very patriotic of you, is that the right word? i liked Breath a lot but would give it a 3.7/5 if that makes sense, the ending is very rushed and tied up a little too quickly, do let me know what else of his I should read!

  5. Thanks for the great review! Like Megan I am an Australian who is a big fan of Tim Winton’s work but I have so far stayed away from Breath because I have heard the content and subject matter is a little hard going. I’m not normally turned off by books that are graphic in nature but I work as a grief counsellor during the day and I sometimes find I just have to stay away from books that are too “heavy” just to keep some balance in my life!

    • I wouldnt say its that heavy that you couldnt cope with the additional weight of it, its just quite shocking in parts but its short so its an afternoon read and then you can move onto something lighter maybe?

  6. adevotedreader

    I’ll add my voice to Megan and Karen’s and say I’m glad to see someone is reading an Australian author beyond us Australians!

    IOf what I’ve read, I’d also reccomend his novel Cloudstreet or his short stories in The Turning.

  7. Another Australian chiming in.

    Breath is the third Tim Winton novel that I have read. I loved Cloudstreet and highly recommend it as your next Winton. I have also read Dirt Music, which was well written but didn’t appeal to me as much.

    The themes and content of Breath were heavy, but I find Winton’s writing style incredibly accessible and evocative. His descriptions are so natural and flow so smoothly, yet they convey such sensory detail that I picture the scenes very clearly in my mind.

    I have never been particularly involved in the surfing culture, but I have to say that Breath gave me a real insight into what it is about surfing that holds such a strong attraction for others.

    I agree that the ending seemed rushed. I felt a little breathless myself as I rushed through 40 years of Bruce Pike’s life in a dozen or so pages at the end.

    Glad to see that some great Australian fiction is reaching an audience beyond our shores.

    • I have never been into surfing either Susan but the fact its such a passion in the book doesnt alienate anyone who doesnt know anything about it. It didnt quite make me want to run to the sea and get in the surf, but not far off.

  8. caroline

    I have read his collection of short stories,The Turning , which I really enjoyed. The stories are all linked and set in the same small town and the characters and stories overlap in places.

    I have also read his short novel , In the Winter Dark, which I read in one sitting and again was completely absorbed.

    I have Cloudstreet lined up as my next read.So glad his work in getting attention on this side of the world.

    • Oh that set of short stories sounds really interesting I like the idea of lots of stories about people from the same village and then having them over lap, I am going to have to hunt that one down. It looks like there is a lot more of Tim Winton for me to look forward to.

  9. Another Australian chiming in… There’s something about Winton that puts me off reading his stuff, and I’m not sure what it is, other than I get the impression (and I could be wrong, so willing to be corrected) that he mythologises Australian life and thereby contributes to the stereotypes. I say this as someone who has developed a critical eye of my country, having left it almost 11 years ago and watched what was going on from a distance.

    That said, I did read Cloudstreet in my 20s and loved it; but I don’t think I’d appreciate it as much now.

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