Posted by: Corri van de Stege | July 23, 2008

A book review – Tim Winton’s Breath

 (Posted from Wales – with very limited access!)

Tim Winton – Breath

Once started it is almost impossible to put this book down again, you want to go on reading, it takes you along, not in the sense that you want to know what the end of the story is, no, it’s to do with wanting to be in it, live it.  The story telling is breathtaking.  It’s about a teenager, growing up in a very small town, a mill town, which is far enough from the sea that he learns to swim in the river ‘like everyone else’.  But even though the sea is miles away, it is there, in the smell and the sounds and the hum of the earth.  Bruce Pike is a bit of an outsider, who falls in with Loonie, who ‘liked everything with an edge on it’ and this is where the story takes off, the two of them becoming hooked on surfing, falling in with grown-ups whose obsession is surfing and mastering ever higher and more daring waves.   But this is not just a book about surfing and adventure, it is about growing up and making decisions and doing things that are on the fringe and being taken in and along with people who are outsiders themselves, ‘hippies’,  who happen to live there but are not part of the community.  Being an only child, Bruce (or Pikelet as he is called) is at times lonely, not really part of his community and neither are their new found friends, Sando and Eva, who in their own ways use the boys as much as the boys use the opportunities they provide. 

The use of language is in tune with the story, the frightening prospect of ‘mastering’  ever more dangerous waves of the coast is given in sparse and icy language and fear is palpable:

                Only when the first new wave arrived did I see what really lay before us.  It came in at an angle, just a hard ridge of well, but within a few seconds, as it found shallow water; it became so engorged as to triple in volume.  And there at its feet lay the great hump of rock that gave the place its name.  The mass of water foundered a moment, distorting as it hit the submerged obstacle.  The wave reared as though climbing the obstruction and then sagged drastically at each end before the yawning lip pitched forward with a sound that made me want to shit.

                Fifteen foot, said Loonie.

In the end it is only Pikelet who will attempt this particular wave, with Sando, as Loonie breaks his arm and cannot go, on the day that the waves coming in are just right, before a storm.  That is also the beginning of their growing apart, as Loonie does not forgive this, knowing that he is the better surfer, the more daring one and he eventually becomes closer to Sando, is taken on trips, and Pikelet is left behind.  Then there is the sudden ‘challenge’ posed by Eva and the Pikelet’s growing up in more ways than one.  Choices and rejections are so much part of becoming an adult and this book is mesmerising in the way it traces this growing up into an adulthood that will forever be grounded in those crucial years, when life poses challenges that are irresistible, and which nevertheless lead to a realisation of limits, ultimately, that one lives with and must accept.  This is a very well written book, and I would have liked to read more, but then realised that the story had been told.   I highly recommend it.  And no, I don’t think I can shelve it in any of my reading challenges, simply enjoyed the book for its own sake!



  1. I haven’t read this one, but I love Tim Winton. I’ve read Cloudstreet, Dirt Music, and Blueback: A Fable for all Ages, and loved them all. There is something about his writing that is magical. (Especially Blueback, I highly, highly recommend it)

  2. What is it that makes people seek danger for the sake of danger itself?

    What is there in the human mind that forgets the innermost sense of saveguard to expose their bodies to an unpredictable fate?

    I’ve seen that people who have risked their lives in, say, climbing and have had accidents of any type, suddenly turn their impotence on their fellow rescuers’ slowness to save them, blaming them for their failure.

    The human nature at work.

  3. I’ve just bought this and am really enjoying it so far. I love Winton’s writing – and am quite annoyed that I have other stuff to do rather than read it this weekend. Good on you for blogging from Wales!

  4. From Warwickshire this time and a very late night connection!
    Alisia: just read this one, it’s great, and definitely breathless!
    Jose: but then, nothing tried nothing gained! There’s something about being a teenager and ignore the dangers adults see, isn’t there? I would never have gone around the world if I had listened to adults!
    Pete: it definitely is one of the best. I’m (only partly) back in connectivity! – Warwickshire and very late and aware that I have to get up early tomorrow! Thanks for being sympathetic 🙂

  5. I understand teenagers’ thirst of adventure, Seachanges. What I cannot understand is why their failures must be transferred to those who got nothing to do with them. Why they cannot accept their mistakes and learn from them.

  6. I haven’t read your post and will come back to it soon. I’m reading this book at the moment and loving it so much that I’m scared to pick up any spoilers. The writing is breathtaking.

  7. Jose: I think this is what growing up is about and what TimWinton is able to convey so superbly in this book: looking back and then realising what it was that makes you the person you are today. But the books is really about that: growing up and how you do that.
    Caroline: it is definitely one of he most succinctly written books I’ve read for a long time, if ever. And yes, nothing is the same after, as in the book! I am just gobsmacked by he writing. x

  8. And the COVER is gorgeous! I know we’re not supposed to judge by that, but thanks for including it in your post. The book is now on my today-at-the-bookstore list!

  9. oh: Yes, it’s a lovely blue and very evocative: th ecover I mean. Glad you’re going to read it – it’s a treasure to buy and hold as well 🙂

  10. It is a fantastic book and the voice of the narrator is so authentic. And there are some real classic scenes in there.

    Anyway, regarding the subject matter of the book I thought you might like to check out this link. It may give one a better idea of what those two boys were up to….

  11. mrnyet: many thanks for that – an amazing video and it does bring it home what they were up to!
    Everyone: just look follow that link!

  12. […] Tim Winton, then have a look at this.  The link was provided by rmnyet this week in a comment on my review of Breath.  Yes, indeed, this is what Pikelet and Loonie are up to and the book is just […]

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