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Breath by Tim Winton


by Tim Winton

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Spoiler alert - if you've not read this book and you want to, there are some spoilers in the following review.

I was inspired to read this by a friend who recommended it, saying that it made her want to read all of his books, so I managed to find a copy at the library. I wasn’t overly sure about it from the blurb, it didn’t sound like the kind of thing I would have normally picked up but I was willing to give it a try.

I found it to be quite a dull read and I think a lot of this is down to the way it’s written. I would have expected a book about surfing to be full of joy and spark, with lots of description about how awesome it is and feels, but it’s not like that at all. It’s a complete monotone, there’s barely any emotion in it. At the same time, there’s an overwhelming feeling of misery and depression that runs right the way through the book so even the brief moments that should be joyous are sad. It makes it quite a difficult read because it’s so dour and heavy.

About half the way through, it goes from being about surfing to being about sex. And it’s not just run of the mill sex either, it’s erotic asphyxiation which was incredibly bizarre. I don’t know if it was due to the tone it was written in but it was just rather off-putting and made for uncomfortable reading.

While the majority of the book is focused on a few years in the teenage boy’s life, the last quarter or so rushes through 40 odd years in a matter of pages. The opening scene that seems to have no link to the rest of the story is explained but the book as a whole is not. It seems like two halves of completely different stories jammed together. I was kind of left wishing that I’d not bothered with it. I didn’t enjoy it at all and it was just such a depressing read. Perhaps if you’re an Australian who is seriously into surfing you might enjoy it but I wouldn’t hold your breath. ( )
  Ganimede | May 6, 2015 |
This book captures the essence of small town coastal Australia, the thrill of surfing and the impact of ones peers on life's journey. I am Australian and surfer so I particularly related to this book but I think it is very accessible to all. ( )
  majamase | Oct 26, 2014 |
Tim Winton’s ‘Breath’ is like a long wave slowly building up, then breaking and crashing down to cause chaos in it's wake. It is the story of two adolescent surfers who are taken in tow by a veteran surfer and gradually introduced to extreme surfing and the way in which this eventually damages and shapes their future lives.

Pikelet (Bruce Pike) and Loonie (Ivan Loon) are both lonely misfits in a small timber town near the coast who befriend each other one summer swimming at the river and dare each other to more and more extreme exploits. When they ride to the coast on their bikes and see the local lads surfing they know they have to give it a try. Before long they draw the attention of Sando (Bill Sanderson) a veteran surfer who takes them under his wing and encourages them to try more and more extreme surf. It’s the 70s and Sando and his American wife Eva are living a hippy lifestyle in a house set in the bush where Eva is also trying to overcome her own demons.

This story is many things. It is a coming of age story for Pikelet and Loonie as they move through adolescence. It is also about the attraction of extreme sport, the addiction to the endorphin and adrenalin rush that is hard to satisfy away from the sport and it is about the dangers of idolizing those who seem adventurous and attractive to us. It also touches on how deviant sexual practices can warp a teenage boy’s sexual awakening affecting his later life and relationships.

Although I grew up in WA and had several surfie friends, I have never been keen to try surfing but found myself enjoying Tim Winton’s descriptions of how to forecast when the surf would be good, how to pick the best position for catching a wave and the exhilaration to be had riding the wave. ( )
  cscott | Mar 30, 2014 |
Brilliant coming-of-age story about a trio of Australian surfers - two boys and their mentor, and the mentor's mysterious wife.
The narrator is 10 years old when he first sees surfers at the ocean:
“I couldn’t have put words to it as a boy, but later I understood what seized my imagination that day. How strange it was to see men do something beautiful. Something pointless and elegant, as though nobody saw or cared. In Sawyer [his home-town], a town of millers and loggers and dairy farmers, with one butcher and a rep from the rural bank beside the BP, men did solid, practical things, mostly with their hands. Perhaps a baker might have had a chance to make something as pretty as it was tasty, but our baker was a woman anyway, a person as dour and blunt as any boy’s father and she baked loaves like housebricks. For style we had a couple local footballers with a nice leap and a tidy torpedo punt, and I would concede that my father rowed a wooden boat as sweetly as I’d seen it done, in a manner that disguised and discounted all effort, but apart from that and those old coves with plastic teeth and necks like turtles who got pissed on Anzac Day and sang sad songs on the verandah of the Riverside before they passed out, there wasn’t much room for beauty in the lives of our men. The only exception was the strange Uri Orlov who carved lovely, old-world toys from stuff he fossicked up from the forest floor. But he didn’t like to show his work. He was shy or careful and people said he was half mad anyway. When it came to blokes, his was all the useless beauty the town could manage.
“For all those years when Loonie [his best friend] and I surfed together, having caught the bug that first morning at the Point, we never spoke about the business of beauty. We were mates but there were places our conversation simply couldn’t go. There was never any doubt about the primary thrill of surfing, the huge body-rush we got flying down the line with the wind in our ears. We didn’t know what endorphins were but we quickly understood how narcotic the feeling was, and how addictive it became; from day one I was stoned from just watching. We talked about skill and courage and luck - we shared all that, and in time we surfed to fool with death - but for me there was still the outlaw feeling of doing something graceful, as if dancing on water was the best and bravest thing a man could do.” pp. 23-4
  maryoverton | Aug 10, 2013 |
The first three quarters of this book was amazing - such detail of surfing and boy activity and relationships. Like so many of these sort of books the parents are either extremely intrusive - such as Loonie's Dad - or just there making sure the daily things happen - such as Pikelet's parents. Not really sure why the last quarter had to go the way it did or why Pikelet lacked the resilience to get on with his life when he was able to tackle those waves. So although the writing was beautiful it just didn't work at the end for me. ( )
  csemortimer | Jul 8, 2013 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0374116342, Hardcover)

Tim Winton is Australia’s best-loved novelist. His new work,Breath, is an extraordinary evocation of an adolescence spent resisting complacency, testing one’s limits against nature, finding like-minded souls, and discovering just how far one breath will take you. It’s a story of extremes—extreme sports and extreme emotions.
On the wild, lonely coast of Western Australia, two thrillseeking and barely adolescent boys fall into the enigmatic thrall of veteran big-wave surfer Sando. Together they form an odd but elite trio. The grown man initiates the boys into a kind of Spartan ethos, a regimen of risk and challenge, where they test themselves in storm swells on remote and shark-infested reefs, pushing each other to the edges of endurance, courage, and sanity. But where is all this heading? Why is their mentor’s past such forbidden territory? And what can explain his American wife’s peculiar behavior? Venturing beyond all limits—in relationships, in physical challenge, and in sexual behavior—there is a point where oblivion is the only outcome. Full of Winton’s lyrical genius for conveying physical sensation, Breath is a rich and atmospheric coming-of-age tale from one of world literature’s finest storytellers.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:23:03 -0400)

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Falling under the spell of an enigmatic extreme-sports surfer, a thrill-seeking pair of western Australian adolescents is initiated into a world of high-stakes adventures and dangerous boundary testing.

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Penguin Australia

2 editions of this book were published by Penguin Australia.

Editions: 0241015308, 0143009583

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