Tim Winton is Australias best-loved novelist. His new work, Breath, is an extraordinary evocation of an adolescence spent resisting complacency, testing ones limits against nature, finding like-minded souls, and discovering just how far one breath will take you. Its a story of extremesextreme 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 mentors past such forbidden territory? And what can explain his American wifes peculiar behavior? Venturing beyond all limitsin relationships, in physical challenge, and in sexual behaviorthere is a point where oblivion is the only outcome. Full of Wintons lyrical genius for conveying physical sensation, Breath is a rich and atmospheric coming-of-age tale from one of world literatures finest storytellers.
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 dont 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. Its been a long, slow shift and theres never been any love lost between Jodie and me. At handover I walked up on a conversation I wasnt supposed to hear. But that was hours ago. Now Im 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. Shes amped, I guess, and a bit puffed up with a sense of her own ...
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 (498 words).
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:
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