Friday, 6 August 2010

Thoughts on Breath, by Tim Winton

This month, we read Breath by Tim Winton. It's a beautifully written book, elegant and atmospheric, exploring the art of risk taking. Bruce Pike ('Pikelet') reflects on his youth spent in a WA coastal town, where he and his mate Loonie hung around with the enigmatic 30-something Ando and his wife Eva. Ando introduces Pikelet and Loonie to wild, secluded and dangerous surfing spots, setting himself up as a guru with two adoring teenage disciples. In due course rivalries develop, leading to greater deeds of daring do in the quest for excitement and terror. From surfscapades to sex games, Pikelet finds himself slowly getting out of his depth.

I enjoyed this novel. Not only are the words beautiful, but the characters are well-drawn and the setting -- coastal landscape, town of Sawyer, and mighty ocean -- vivid. The main story, Pikelet's 'coming of age' story (sort of), is poignant and appropriately fraught with teen angst.

However, I didn't find Breath 100% satisfying. The novel opens with Bruce, now a paramedic in his 50s, attending a home hanging, which he knows isn't a suicide. It is this which sets him reminiscing, but I initially took this to be a temporary flashback, and kept waiting to get back to the main story, which sounded as though it would have been interesting. In time, it became apparent this wasn't going to happen, but it unsettled me, and detracted from my enjoyment at first. Moreover, the last 10 pages or so sketchily fill in Pikelet's dysfunctional years from teen surfer to paramedic far too quickly, leaving me wondering what the overall point of it all is.

I do really like the last paragraph though, which concludes with the following observation about surfing:
" . . . it's important for me to show them that their father is a man who dances -- who saves lives and carries the wounded, yes, but who also does something completely pointless and beautiful, and in this at least he should need no explanation."

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