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Breath: A Novel Hardcover – May 27, 2008

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux; First Edition edition (May 27, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0374116342
  • ISBN-13: 978-0374116347
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 0.9 x 8.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (102 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,032,780 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

SignatureReviewed by David Maine This slender book packs an emotional wallop. Two thrill-seeking boys, Bruce and Loonie, are young teenagers in smalltown Australia, circa the early 1970s. Their attraction is focused on the water—ponds, rivers, the sea—but they do little more than play around until they fall in with a mysterious, older man named Sando. He recognizes their daredevil wildness and takes it upon himself to teach them to surf. As the boys become more skilled, their exploits become more reckless; narrator Bruce (nicknamed Pikelet) has doubts about where all this is heading, while the aptly named Loonie wants only bigger and bolder thrills. This mix of doubt and desire intensifies when the boys make a discovery about their mentor's past.Surfing isn't the only dangerous game in town. As Sando's attentions and favor flip-flop from one boy to the other, the rivalry between the two, present from the beginning, grows stronger and more sinister. Sando's American wife, Eva, becomes more of a presence, too. She walks with a limp, has plenty of secrets of her own and becomes increasingly involved in Pikelet's life, in ways that even a 15-year-old might recognize as not entirely appropriate. Winton's language, often terse, never showy, hovers convincingly between a teenager's inarticulateness and the staccato delivery of a grown man: So there we were, this unlikely trio. A select and peculiar club, a tiny circle of friends, a cult, no less. Sando and his maniacal apprentices. The language manages to summon up both the uncertain teenager and the jaded adult: It transpired that I was not, after all, immune to a dare, Pikelet tells us at one point, with both the breathtaking unawareness of the boy and the irony of the man.Told from the perspective of the narrator's present life as a paramedic, Breath aims to recapture a long-passed episode in a boy's life and show how this shaped the man he grew into. The story contemplates what it means to be less ordinary in an era when extreme sports hadn't even been recognized. (The fear of being ordinary is one of the terrors that drives these daredevils to push themselves ever further.) The author of 13 previous books, Winton is well-known in Australia and should be here. He touches upon important themes, of death, life, breathing and its absence, while looking dispassionately upon the relentless pursuit of thrills, pleasure, sex, status: the mundane obsessions of the ordinary and extraordinary alike. David Maine is the author of Fallen; The Book of Samson; and, most recently, Monster, 1959.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From School Library Journal

Adult/High School—This novel transforms the dangers of surfing and thrill-seeking into a powerful metaphor for the transition from childhood to adulthood. Bruce "Pikelet" Pike and his friend Loonie, both 12, are looking for a way of life different from what home and school offer them. Living in a small, working-class town on the west coast of Australia in the 1970s, they turn to surfing as their escape. At first, they manage little beyond paddling offshore on flimsy boards. But everything changes when they meet Sando, an aging hippie-guru with a love of sports and danger. He takes the boys under his wing, first by letting them store their boards at his home and later by encouraging them to chase after increasingly dangerous waves. Ordinary life becomes boring and colorless to the boys when compared to the magic they feel when blasting through the churning water. The surfing sequences are beautifully and excitingly described, giving an easy hook to an otherwise emotionally complicated novel. Jealousy enters the relationship when Sando takes Loonie on a surfing tour through the Pacific Islands, leaving Pikelet behind with Sando's bitter wife. The two bond through their pain at being left behind and question the place of thrill-seeking in their lives. Their friendship takes a sexual turn, making this novel best for more mature teens. Told as a retrospective tale, Winton's story mixes the frenetic excitement and confusion of adolescence with the perspective and wisdom of adulthood, making this book a unique reading experience.—Matthew L. Moffett, Pohick Regional Library, Burke, VA
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

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Customer Reviews

Beautiful landscape prose, engaging characters and great story telling.
What annoyed me in the end was the one dimensional closure for the supporting characters and the feeling that Winton could have taken this story much further.
Mark Perry
He's the one who, after reading Breath, said that of all the words he's read on surfing, Winton is the one who really gets it.
Amazon Customer

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

23 of 25 people found the following review helpful By H. F. Corbin TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on July 10, 2008
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Australian writer Tim Winton's latest short novel (217 pages), unlike some of his previous novels--CLOUDSTREET and DIRT MUSIC come to mind-- is one that you can devour in one sitting for it will pull you down into it like the undertow that this fantastic writer writes about with such breathtaking beauty. We see the events unfold through the eyes of Bruce, now a gnarly-- one of Winton's favorite words-- paramedic in his 50's who recalls events that transpired when he was a budding teenager in the small town of Sawyer, Australia.

The novel begins with Bruce and a woman partner answering an emergency call from a distraught family whose teenaged son apparently has committed suicide by hanging. Then the narrator jumps back in time to his youth and talks for many pages about his friend Loonie and their strange relationship-- a sort of hero worship on the part of Bruce-- with an exotic former surfing champion Sando who pushes the boys to newer and more dangerous heights as they take on more and more difficult waves as they strive to rise from being just ordinary. Then there is Sando's American wife Eva.

BREATH is a strange novel indeed. If you are wondering what a teenager's suicide has to do with all this surfing on the Australia coast, as I was, just be patient for Mr. Winton ties up all the loose ends with a powerful wallop. The novel is a coming-of-age novel about sexual awakening, the danger associated with the emotions if they are left to run rampant when you are thirteen or fourteen, the scars that remain in adulthood.

I am always fascinated when writers from other parts of the world write about Americans. Eva tells Bruce what it was like growing up in Salt Lake City, Mormons and American ambition.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Jennifer Cameron-Smith TOP 1000 REVIEWER on November 1, 2008
Format: Hardcover
The novel opens with the middle-aged Bruce Pike, then a paramedic, attending the scene of a death that everyone else considers (or wants) to be a suicide. Bruce doesn't believe that it is and thus begins the body of the novel where Bruce recalls his youth (during the 1970s) in a conservative logging town near the coast in Western Australia. In less than 220 pages, Tim Winton creates the angst of growing up, of finding your own way when those around you seem to be lost and captures the beauty and cruelty of the natural world while sketching in characters who seem to be constantly searching the external world for what can surely only be an internal form of happiness.

Who you end up being and what you end up seeing depends a lot on where you've been. Bruce Pike (`Pikelet') and Ivan Loon (`Loonie') form a competitive type of friendship in the double digit years just before teenagehood. Their friendship is both enhanced and complicated by meeting up with Sando, an aging surfer, and his wife Eva. This is a novel about life, friendship, experimentation and regret. It is also about boundaries, risk-taking and (for some) survival.

Tim Winton is a great author. His fictional worlds can be uncomfortable and some readers will find aspects of this novel confronting as I did. Despite this (or perhaps because of this), I'm glad I read this novel and some of the imagery will remain with me for a very long time.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Stephanie Silber on November 2, 2008
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
BREATH is a mesmerizing reverie about the meaning of courage - and life itself - that sucks the reader in from the first page to the last. This bittersweet coming of age story set on the wild coast of Western Australia follows two boys as they become obsessed with surfing and are both themselves compelled, as well as encouraged by their charismatic mentor, to pit themselves against ever more dangerous waves.

Deft, delicate characterizations set against a big country and its rugged people are vivid, but the scenes starring the whitewater monster waves sweep you into another realm altogether, whether you want to go there or not. Unforgettable.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Jonathan Posner on January 1, 2010
Format: Paperback
This is the first book that I've read by Tim Winton, though his name is one I've been conscious of for many years, ever since a Qantas flight attendant friend of mine who used to blow in from Melbourne every so often would intersperse scary tales of flight schedules with news of the latest, and unmissable in Australian fiction. And although I gratefully took up her recommendation of Thomas Keneally to my shame I never quite got round to Tim Winton. That is, until now.

And the first thing to say is that Tim Winton can write - so well, in fact, that, like one of his big waves, he sweeps the reader before him. Such is the poignancy and elegiac nature of this novel, however, that it needs really to be read in one or two - three at the most - sittings. In doing so this completely overcomes any perceived skimpiness in the plot department but also safely launches the reader from shallower waters into the deeply exhilarating and spellbinding final hundred pages.

If I might have just one half-hearted reservation it would be that the undertow of departed characters falls away rather too quickly, though maybe this is simply the price we have to pay for Winton having built them up so well in the first place. A minor quibble as I say, for in the end writing of such stupendous quality is such a rare event it should be grasped unconditionally.
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