|Publisher||Hamish Hamilton, Australia|
|Media type||Print (Hardback)|
|Preceded by||Dirt Music|
Breath is the twentieth book and the eighth novel by Australian novelist Tim Winton. His first novel in seven years, it was published in 2008, in Australia, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, the United States of America, Canada, the Netherlands and Germany.
The novel is set in a small Western Australian logging village named Sawyer, near the fictional coastal town of Angelus, which has featured in several of Winton's works, including Shallows and The Turning. It is narrated by Bruce "Pikelet" Pike, a divorced, middle-aged paramedic and takes the form of a long flashback in which he remembers his childhood friendship with Loonie. The main action of the novel takes place in the 1970s.
In the first part of the book, the narrator, Bruce Pike, recounts his boyhood friendship with Ivan "Loonie" Loon. As young boys, Pikelet and Loonie dare each other to perform dangerous stunts in the local river. When they become teenagers, they take up surfing and meet a former professional surfer named Sando, who leads them to new levels of recklessness. The novel explores the boys' youthful urge to seek out the farthest limits of courage, endurance and sanity in an attempt to escape the ordinariness of their lives.
The second half of Breath is concerned with the disintegration of Pikelet's friendship with Sando and Loonie and his developing relationship with Sando's American wife Eva.
- Bruce "Pikelet" Pike
- Ivan "Loonie" Loon
- Bill "Sando" Sanderson
- Eva Sanderson
Reviewer Cathleen Schine describes Winton as "a writer who values themes, a practitioner of what might be called the school of Macho Romanticism, or perhaps better, Heroic Sensitivity". She writes that 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". Along a somewhat similar vein, Aida Edermariam contrasts Winton to Hemingway, writing that in Winton "Land and sea are too implacable for such [ie Hemingway's] triumphalism, too capable of the sudden knock-out blow" and she goes on to say that "Winton's books are stalked by the possibility of the fatal undertow, on sea, on land, emotionally; by the knowledge of how fragile the strongest bodies, the bravest minds, can be".
It is a book about risk, about finding a balance between being extraordinary and ordinary. The imagery Winton uses to explore these concepts is that of "breathing and gasping for breath". The boys' friendship is established through their daring each other to hold their breath under water, but breath also appears in other forms in the novel: in Pikelet's father's snoring, in the loss of breath when being knocked over in the surf, in games that toy with asphyxiation, and in the resuscitation that is crucial to Pike's work as a paramedic. In Winton's conception, the very ordinary act of breathing can take on a grandeur when associated with "the ecstasy and brief transcendence vouchsafed to those who challenge seas".
Andrew Riemer, in his review, suggests than "Thomas Mann dealt with the same paradox, the same tragic dilemma of beauty and destruction, in Death in Venice, though from a very different perspective. Winton's book belongs, I think, to the same tradition, though in place of Mann's typically European immersion in high culture, Winton articulates his concerns in an almost unsullied Australian vernacular."
Canadian reviewer Ian McGillis, on the other hand, compares Winton with Ian McEwan, writing that "Breath shares with Ian McEwan's On Chesil Beach that sense of a good if compromised life lived in the aftermath of decisions made without adequate preparation." He writes "that the choices he [Bruce Pike] made in youth will follow him, for better or worse, to the grave" and that Winton does not offer any easy solutions but rather leaves "the reader to ponder the implications".
In an interview with Aida Edemariam, of The Guardian, Winton says about surfing
"I can afford to blow the morning off and go for a surf. I think, 'oh god, I'm nearly 50, you know? If I can get another 10 or 15 years of surfing - that's fine. I've worked hard, I tell myself, as I'm throwing the board in the car. I owe it to myself. A bit of water over the gills. That's my reward. I'm happier. In the same way I did when I was a teenager. Going down to the sea in anguish and turmoil and bewilderment, pubescent eruption, then coming home blissed out and happy. At one with the world."
Literary significance and reception
Breath featured as the Book at Bedtime on BBC Radio 4 from 23 June to 4 July 2008.
Awards and nominations
- The Age Book of the Year Award, Fiction Prize, 2008: winner
- Queensland Premier's Literary Awards, Best Fiction Book, 2008: shortlisted
- Indie Awards, Best Australian Book, 2008: inaugural winner
- Commonwealth Writers Prize, South East Asia and South Pacific Region, Best Book, 2009: shortlisted
- Miles Franklin Literary Award, 2009: won
- Jenny Darling Associates Breath
- Schine, Cathleen (2008) "Walking on Water" (Review), The New York Review of Books
- Edemariam, Aida (2008) "Waiting for the new wave: Aida Edemariam talks to Tim Winton about his youth, Australia and why writing is like surfing", The Guardian, 2008-06-28
- Riemer, Andrew (2008) "Breath", The Sydney Morning Herald, 2008-05-02
- McGillis, Ian (2008) "Testing the limits of the flesh", The Gazette, 2008-08-31
- Publishers Weekly, Volume 255, Issue 14, p. 40, 04/07/2008