This book by widely-admired Australian novelist Tim Winton has received
brilliant and well-deserved praise. Slim but breathtaking, it pulses with energy with barely one false step in all of its lyrical passages. It chronicles the unfolding life of Brucie Pike, a boy who
stretches his new-found independence into frightening tests of personal
strength and challenging moral choices.
This masterful coming-of-age story is set in a struggling mill town near the coast of Western Australia. Breath's rich, compelling prose grabs the reader with understated clarity and a vivid visual richness. Winton's evocative descriptions of land, sea, and inhabitants are credible and compelling. The lonely young protagonist chafes at a dreary rural life in which his future is defined by the expected, the restrained, and the ordinary. His fearful parents forbid swimming in the powerful ocean, but fascination with the grace of surfing and his need to prove himself drive the son to deception. Over time, young Pikelet and his aptly named companion Loonie become adolescent apprentices to an enigmatic world-class surfer, Sando, and his mysterious wife, Eva. In clandestine forays and against undertows of betrayal, they plunge repeatedly into exhilarating, stormy waves of ocean and relationship.
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.
Novels by Tim Winton
An Open Swimmer (1982)
That Eye, the Sky (1986)
In the Winter Dark (1989)
The Bugalugs Bum Thief (1991)
The Riders (1994)
The Deep (1998)
Dirt Music (2001)
Scission: And Other Stories (1986)
Minimum of Two (1988)
Blood and Water (1993)
The Turning (2004)
This review was originally published in June 2008, and has been updated for the May 2009 paperback release. Click here to go to this issue.
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