Breath by Tim Winton

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Breath by Tim Winton

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Category: Literary Fiction
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: Lesley Mason
Reviewed by Lesley Mason
Summary: A young boy takes to the surf, faces his fears and slowly enters an adult world he is totally unprepared for. An elegant, powerful narrative takes a deep unexpectedly dark dive into murkier waters.
Buy? Maybe Borrow? Yes
Pages: 215 Date: May 2008
Publisher: Picador
ISBN: 978-0330455718

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In a squeal of sirens and lights Bruce Pike arrives at the suburban home to find a middle-aged guy broken and huddled on the front steps. Inside the daughters are hunched and silent, separate.

Upstairs a mother is tending to her son…who is dead.

In a while the police will come, and there's not much for Bruce to do in the meantime other than to agree with the mother that people will not understand, and try to tell her that the best she can do is tell the truth anyway.

But Bruce does understand. He knows it isn't a suicide.

Thus starts Pike's long explanation of what he knows and how. He takes us back to the days when he was Pikelet, growing up in the sawmilling town where you can't see the ocean, but at night you can smell it and sometimes hear it.

His parents are older than you might expect and perhaps because of that, perhaps because of something else untold, are more protective than is good for a growing boy. He is forbidden the ocean. And because of that, or because of something else unknown the beach, the ocean, the thundering waves, is where he longs to be.

When he's eleven years old, he meets Ivan Loon…a year older and full of bravado.

For the next few years, the boys grow up together, grow together, grow apart. Their friendship develops around water, initially the river and then the ocean. Tagging along with the local surfer gang they then fall in with an ageing hippy (does 36 count as ageing? probably, to a teenager) who surfs like a dancer…alone, elegant, beyond the norm. Mentored by the guru-like figure and angered by his ill-tempered wife, they become ever-more ensnared in his world view. Along the way, they confront their fears and take to unknown waters.

The story is a simple coming of age tale, following Pike from his meeting with Loon until their final parting. For most of the book, the drama is all in the ocean – the waves, the reefs, the dangers and risks, and the injuries. Metaphors are never far from the surface though: from the obviousness of the names Pikelet, Loonie, Sando…through the calling the town Sawyer and the youthful river antics so reminiscent of Huck & Tom…to the struggle against nature…against the waves, against oneself.

The surf scenes are utterly mesmerising. Even for someone not fully following all of the terminology, it's impossible not to be gripped by the power of the wave, and the fear of it, and the reasons for being out there in the first place.

The struggle to be out beyond, to be 'not ordinary'.

Then there's a sudden shift. Darkness gathers like a storm coming in off the water and Pikelet's world becomes much less ordinary in ways he'd never imagined.

The blurb speaks of immediacy and grace – I can't disagree. Read at a single sitting, I was captivated.

If I have a criticism it would be that the transition from the boy to the man we met at the beginning is too swiftly dealt with, only surface-skimmed, and I felt a little short-changed by that. There's an antagonism in the early pages whose relevance I don't quite grasp. But that's about what isn't in the book: what it is in it is elegant, beautiful and surprisingly powerful.

I'd like to thank the publishers for sending a copy to The Bookbag.

You might also like a tale from the other end of the world, but with some similarities of style and impact: At the Edge of Light by Maria Peura.

Booklists.jpg Breath by Tim Winton is in the Top Ten Beach Reads For Boys.

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Buy Breath by Tim Winton at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Breath by Tim Winton at


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