Breath
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Breath

Tim Winton

When paramedic Bruce Pike is called out to deal with another teenage adventure gone wrong, he knows better than his colleague, better than the kid’s parents, what happened and how. Thirty years before, that dead boy could have been him.

A relentlessly gripping and deeply moving novel about the damage you do to yourself when you’re young and think you’re immortal.

Review

2008 has been a bumper year for Australian fiction so far, with novels out by Peter Carey, Helen Garner, Joan London and Luke Davies – and there are prospects for more with new works by Christos Tsiolkas and Kate Grenville. And now we have Breath, Tim Winton’s ninth novel.

Breath opens with ambulance man, Bruce Pike, attending the apparent suicide of an adolescent boy. The incident causes Bruce to reflect on his own childhood, growing up in Sawyer, a small coastal town; the reason for that trigger only becomes starkly apparent toward the end of the book. Bruce, or Pikelet as he’s known, is a solitary child of elderly parents. He spends his weekends fishing in the tidal river with his cautious and conservative father and his workmates from the local mill; Pikelet yearns to cross the dunes and swim in the sea but his father won’t let him. He makes an unlikely friend in Loonie, the son of the local publican. Loonie is a boy who thrives on taking risks and a fierce competiveness develops between them. When they secretly make their way to the sea, they see a group of surfers from the larger town of Angelus ‘dancing on the sea’. Both boys are hooked. There is one surfer who keeps apart from the rest; he’s older, more graceful and more assured. One day he meets the boys on the track home and tells them that they can leave their boards at his house – ‘we’re away a lot’.

Sando, suspiciously watched over by Eva, his American partner, takes the boys under his wing encouraging them and challenging them to take on bigger and bigger challenges. The boys compete for Sando’s attention and approval. Winton’s descriptions of the sea and the act of surfing are magical and represent some of his finest writing. In the end it is Loonie who Sando chooses when Piklet fails a test, inviting him to join him on a surfing trip overseas. Pikelet is convinced that Sando didn’t take him seriously anymore: ‘the rich feeling of being in charge of myself evaporated’. Pikelet and Eva, left behind, enter a relationship that is both obsessive and reckless. For 15-year-old Pikelet, the 25-year-old Eva is distant and needy in ways beyond his comprehension. Those years growing up in Sawyer affect Bruce Pikelet for the rest of his life. Breath is a powerful, disturbing novel; beautifully written. It must one Winton’s best works yet.

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