Breath (novel)

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First edition
AuthorTim Winton
PublisherHamish Hamilton, Australia
Publication date
Media typePrint (Hardback)
Preceded byDirt Music 

Breath is the twentieth book and the eighth novel by Australian author Tim Winton. His first novel in seven years, it was published in 2008, in Australia, New Zealand, the UK, the US, Canada, the Netherlands and Germany.[1]

Plot introduction[edit]

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.

Plot summary[edit]

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 part 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".[2] 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".[2] In a somewhat similar vein, Aida Edemariam 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".[3]

It is a book about risk,[2] 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".[4] 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".[4]

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."[4]

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."[5] 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".[5]


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."[3]

Literary significance and reception[edit]

Breath featured as the Book at Bedtime on BBC Radio 4 from 23 June to 4 July 2008.

The Publishers Weekly Signature review by David Maine praises Breath: "This slender book packs an emotional wallop."[6]

Film Adaptation[edit]

Filming of Breath began in April 2016. Australian actor and The Mentalist star Simon Baker directed the production,[7] producer Mark Johnson having teamed to acquire feature rights to the novel. Baker also starred in the movie, which was released in 2017.[8]

Awards and nominations[edit]


  1. ^ Jenny Darling Associates Breath Archived 18 September 2008 at the Wayback Machine
  2. ^ a b c Schine, Cathleen (2008), "Walking on Water" (Review), The New York Review of Books.
  3. ^ a b 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, 28 June 2008.
  4. ^ a b c Riemer, Andrew (2008), "Breath", The Sydney Morning Herald, 2 May 2008.
  5. ^ a b McGillis, Ian (2008), "Testing the limits of the flesh", The Gazette, 31 August 2008. Archived 5 November 2012 at the Wayback Machine
  6. ^ Publishers Weekly, Volume 255, Issue 14, p. 40, 7 April 2008.
  7. ^ "Simon Baker to produce and direct film adaptation of Tim Winton's novel Breath". Daily Telegraph. 11 April 2016. Retrieved 8 February 2017.
  8. ^ Maddox, Garry (12 April 2016). "Elizabeth Debicki, Richard Roxburgh join cast of Simon Baker's film Breath". Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 8 February 2017.
  9. ^ a b c d "Tim Winton Author Bio". Booktopia. Retrieved 8 February 2017.
  10. ^ "Miles Franklin Literary Award - Every Winner Since 1957". Better Reading. Retrieved 8 February 2017.

External links[edit]