Summary and book reviews of Breath by Tim Winton

Breath

A Novel

By Tim Winton

Breath
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

     Not Yet Rated
  • Hardcover: May 2008,
    224 pages.
    Paperback: May 2009,
    224 pages.

    Publication Information

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Book Reviewed by:
Kathy Pierson

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About this Book

Book Summary

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.

Excerpt

Breath

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 never been any love lost between Jodie and me. At handover I walked up on a conversation I wasn’t supposed to hear. But that was hours ago. Now I’m alert and tingly with dread. Bring it on.

At the call address Jodie kills the siren and wheels around to reverse up the steep drive. She’s amped, I guess, and a bit puffed up with a sense of her own ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
Discussion Questions
  1. The story of Pikelet's experiences with Sando and Loonie are framed by scenes from his life as an older man. How would you describe his attitude towards the young man he was back then, and toward the choices he made?
  2. Is Sando a good influence on the boys? Does help them in any way? Do you think he has their best interests at heart?
  3. Pikelet and Loonie come together as friends over their shared fascination with risk. How do they ultimately experience surfing differently? What is it about them that leads their paths to
    diverge over the course of the story?
  4. What is Eva's attitude toward Sando's relationship with the boys? What feelings does it bring up about her own situation and her own ...
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Reviews

BookBrowse

This rite of passage narrative is filled with empathetic and haunting images, as the boys' compulsion for thrill-seeking turns into the multi-year pursuit of ever-increasing bodily risks. Dangerous choices and exposure to secrets -- and lies -- mean rifts and loss of innocence as compulsions turn from surfing to sexuality. Self-destruction flirts with self-awareness, and stoic maturity eventually brings heartaches, insight and acceptance. The physical motifs of breath and breathing are layered throughout the narrative, and add humanizing depth and perception to this remarkable story.   (Reviewed by Kathy Pierson).

Full Review Members Only (498 words).

Media Reviews
Los Angeles Times - Kathryn Crim

For this reader, who has attempted surfing only once, and only long enough to be washed ashore seasick, the siren call of the waves is faint at best. But there's a saltiness in Breath, Tim Winton's newest novel, that offers an irresistible taste of oceanic communion:

New York Times - Jennifer Schuessler

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 .... Fear of death, this haunting novel suggests, is nothing compared with the fear of just living.

Publishers Weekly

This slender book packs an emotional wallop...Winton is well-known in Australia and should be here.

Kirkus Reviews

[A] tight narrative notable for its empathetic characters and effectively spare use of shock..lyricism empowers this stoner rite-of-passage saga, which also conveys a timeless pathos.

Library Journal

But Winton is pitch perfect in capturing (but not exploiting) adolescent angst, and he describes surfing and the sea so thrillingly that even nonswimmers will want to plunge right in.

The Independent - Andy Martin

Unlike just about everyone else, I thought Winton's early work wildly over-written. Like a Dylan Thomas poem transported to Western Australia and doing hard labour: lots of great vocabulary, but nothing much happening. In Breath, he has finally found an objective correlative, surfing, to carry his tough, visceral lyricism. Winton on a wave is irresistible.

Scotland on Sunday - Neel Mukherjee

Tim Winton's Breath is as much a novel about surfing as The Old Man And The Sea is about fishing and Moby Dick about whale-hunting. .... Contrary to what most commentators have said, Breath is not a novel about the addictive nature of adrenaline but an exploration of whether one can find one's depth once the entire ocean of experience has been redefined.

The Guardian - Helen Gordon

With Breath, Winton has written an absorbing, powerful and deeply beautiful novel, a meditation on surfing which becomes a rumination about the very stuff of existence.

The Sunday Times - Adam Lively

The trigger may be more brutal than Proust's madeleine, but Winton's subtle, elegant telling of that exploration holds the elements of innocence and experience, adventure and self-destruction, in a convincingly and delicately mysterious balance, making for a novel that lingers long in the mind.

The Age (Australia) - James Bradley

In a way, of course, Breath is a curious novel for a writer such as Winton to be writing, not least because at its heart is the sort of coming-of-age story one might normally expect to find in the work of a much younger and less-experienced writer.

Yet its seeming simplicity is deceptive, for beneath its pared-back surfaces lies all the steel of a major novelist operating at full throttle in a territory he has spent 25 years making his own.

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Australian Vernacular

Being a novel from "Oz", the pages of Breath are casually sprinkled with words not found in most non-Australians' vocabularies. While "blokes" and "fags" are easily recognized as meaning "men" and "cigarettes," other descriptive terms remain cloaked in obscurity. To counteract this sense of puzzlement, here is a regional translation chart to clarify most of Winton's more colorful verbiage:

  • bitumen - asphalt paving
  • blued - fought or quarreled
  • bombora - large sea waves breaking over submerged rock shelves
  • carn - come on!
  • dag - nerd, goof, funny person
  • didjeridu - long, tubular, wooden wind instrument that produces continuous low-pitched sounds
  • fossicked - searched, ...

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