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Breath A Novel

Tim Winton

Picador

0312428391

9780312428396

Trade Paperback

224 Pages

$14.00

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Winner of the Miles Franklin AwardA Publishers Weekly Best Book of the Year
In Breath, Tim Winton, evokes 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 is a story of extremes—extreme sports and extreme emotions. On the wild, lonely coast of Western Australia, two thrill-seeking 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?  Their mentor’s past is forbidden territory and his American wife’s peculiar behavior indicates an unknown illness, possibly physical or mental.  Venturing beyond all limits—in relationships, in physical challenge, and in sexual behavior—there is a point where oblivion is the only outcome. Winton’s talent for conveying physical sensation, Breath is a lyrical and atmospheric coming-of-age tale from one of Australian literature’s finest storytellers.

REVIEWS

Praise for Breath

"Darkly exhilarating . . . Winton, one of Australia's most acclaimed novelists, excels at conveying the shadowy side of his country's beauty, the way even the most ordinary landscape can exert a paralyzing hold . . . Winton's novel succeeds as a tautly gorgeous meditation on the inescapable human addiction to 'the monotony of drawing breath,' whether you want to or not."—Jennifer Schuessler, The New York Times

"Tim Winton, the prolific Australian author of . . . nine novels, three short-story collections, six children's books, and three nonfiction books, has a genius for the ungainly comedy of family life and the isolated sadness of lovers. But he is also a writer who values themes, a practitioner of what might be called the school of Macho Romanticism, or perhaps better, Heroic Sensitivity. His novels, often set on the sea in Western Australia, are grand, gothically lyrical affairs, beautifully written and spiritually overwrought. They can partake of giddy magical realism . . . they can partake of the solemn wilderness epic . . . Winton's characters tend to flirt with death, long for death, while at the same time bravely suffering physical hardship in order to escape death.  The new novel is also charged with physical danger, physical courage, and Winton's brand of rugged introspection. But it is far less extravagant in style and scope than some of his earlier work. Interestingly, for a book about risk, this novel is meticulously, intensely careful in its composition. Breath is distilled Winton . . . a classic coming-of-age novel, and it's a good one, too. But here the story of a boy growing up becomes something more elemental. Pikelet confronts the boundaries of not just his own life, but of life itself. The novel is also, deliriously, a yarn of surfing . . . Breath is an exploration of ambition and complacency, but it is also a nuanced story of an adolescent turning his affections away from his parents to a more glamorous couple, as adolescents so often do.”—Cathleen Schine, The New York Review of Books
 
"Richly Australian, Breath is a classic coming-of-age novel, which is not to pigeonhole the work as small or pat. Thomas Wolfe and James Joyce among many other literary greats have employed the form. Readers who are, like the narrator, adolescent might well enjoy Tim Winton's surf-and-turf tale. But this is also a book for grown-ups. Regarded as a national treasure in Australia, Mr Winton is skillful at conveying not only the thrill of surfing, but also its terrors. For Mr Winton no two waves are alike (one is 'as ugly as a civic monument'). Descriptions of man-meets-ocean are vivid, intoxicating and beautifully written. Given that Mr Winton is now 47, he is remarkably in touch with the currents of a 15-year-old's emotional life, and towards the end of the novel does a marvellous job of fast-forwarding into the damaged adult that Pikelet will become. Breath adeptly portrays the complex symbiotic relationship between the older mentor and his worshipful acolytes. Which party is more grateful for the other? Of Eva, 'there was something careless about her that I mistook for courage in the same way I misread Sando's vanity as wisdom.' Yet what may most distinguish this coming-of-age fiction is its perfect balance of teenage romanticism and disillusion. The hippy couple the boys idolise is bound to disappoint. But to the very end, Mr Winton celebrates the immediacy and animation of 'something completely pointless and beautiful.' Surfing, disappoint? Never."—The Economist

"This novel is a paean to surfing. But it will not only be savoured by those with sun-bleached hair and rippling torsos. It treats elemental themes of fear and friendship, loneliness and boredom, the lure and danger of life lived intensely, the broken promises of adolescence sliding into middle age . . . The sensitivities and vulnerabilities of adolescence are depicted here with deft and painful accuracy. A tragic key in the novel, narrated as it is from the perspective of middle age, is the loss of this youthful freshness . . . The quiet delicacy and dignity of the narrative voice reflects another of its dominant themes: the silence that often prevails in make friendship . . . While Breath deals with primal, mythic conflicts—the clash of wilderness and civilization, self and society, youth and age—it does not strain for epic effect. The voice has a muted, even modest quality, betokening the half-successful life that Pikelet goes on to live. There is a struggle, disappointment and survival, but no portentous tragic fall. It is a quiet, feather-fingered style that nonetheless has the power to claw. For all the ostensible hubris of the theme, Winton's characters are too scarred and thwarted for heroism, too typical to be archetypal."—Rónán McDonald, The Times Literary Supplement

Breath is a coming-of-age novel written with Tim Winton’s customary tenderness and vivid sense of place and psychological truth. He manages to portray brilliantly made characters against a mythic landscape, thus creating a narrative that is gripping and breath-taking both in its vast scope and in its use of emotional detail. This is his most forceful and perfect novel to date.”—Colm Toibin, author of The Master

"Breath contains wonderful descriptions of the ocean, surfing, rivalry between mates, and small-town life. The novel is beautifully written and vintage Winton . . . Breath is gripping . . . Breath breaks new literary ground and may well become an Australian classic . . . Winton writes about surfing with an insider's knowledge and an unparalleled lyrical beauty, and Breath might be the first great surfing novel"—Nathanael O'Reilly, Antipodes

"Two thrill-seeking boys, Bruce and Loonie, are young teenagers in small town 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 . . . 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 . . . 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 . . . The language manages to summon up both the uncertain teenager and the jaded adult . . . 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) . . . [Winton] 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, Publishers Weekly

"Two boys, two boards, and a roiling surf. It might sound like heaven, but it doesn't work out that way in this engrossing new book from noteworthy Australian author Winton. The narrator, Bruce Pike ('Pikelet'), is an awkward young teenager in the isolated coastal town of Sawyer when he befriends a troublemaker named Loonie. Riding the waves together (often at the expense of school), the two strike up a friendship with a freewheeling older man named Sando who, they eventually discover, was a surfing champion now living off the beaten path with an embittered American wife—herself a leading snowboarder waylaid by serious injury. The gurulike Sando leads the boys on to ever-riskier surfing venues, and when Bruce finally chickens out, he's left behind to launch a damaging affair with Sando's wife . . . Winton is pitch perfect in capturing (but not exploiting) adolescent angst, and he describes surfing and the sea so thrillingly."—Barbara Hoffert, Library Journal

"Sun, surf and the 1970s Down Under provide the backdrop for the story of a boy's awakening through rough sex. Paramedic Bruce Pike and his partner answer a medical emergency call at a suburban home. In a bedroom crowded with rock-star and hot-chick posters, Bruce finds the body of a 17-year-old boy who appears to have committed suicide. But Bruce, a middle-aged dad, knows better, and the narrative turns back to his adolescence to explain how he knows. Australian author Winton offers a tight narrative notable for its empathetic characters and effectively spare use of shock . . . Period details like Eva's Captain Beefheart and Ravi Shankar records add verisimilitude, and Winton handles youthful angst like a hipper John Knowles. Lyricism empowers this stoner rite-of-passage saga, which also conveys a timeless pathos."—Kirkus Reviews

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BOOK EXCERPTS

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We come sweeping up the tree-lined boulevard with siren and lights and when the GPS urges us to make the next left we take it so fast that all the gear slams and sways inside the vehicle. I don’t say a thing. Down the dark suburban street I can see the house lit like a cruise ship.
Got it, she says before I can point it out.
Feel free to slow down.
Making you nervous, Bruce?
Something like that, I murmur.
But the fact is I feel brilliant. This is when I feel good, when the nerve-ends are singing, the gut tight with anticipation. It’s been a long, slow shift and there’s
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

  • Tim Winton

  • Tim Winton was born in Perth, Western Australia, and is the preeminent Australian novelist of his generation. He has written twenty books, including the bestselling novels Cloudstreet, The Riders, and Dirt Music.
  • Tim Winton © Denise Fitch
    Tim Winton
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