Wednesday, 8 September 2010

Aussie Author Challenge - 8 Aussie Book Reviews before 31st December 2010. My first, Breath, by Tim Winton.

I signed up for the AUSSIE AUTHOR CHALLENGE some months ago, but have not begun my reviews of Aussie books at this stage. I'd better get moving before NaNoWrMo starts in November when all other projects will be on the back burner. If you're not an Aussie, (for this challenge you're called a Tourist) but would like to post a review or 3 on an Aussie author, sign up by clicking the link above.

There are lots of excellent Aussie authors, some who're strutting the international stage and some who keep a low profile. Well, like, who hasn't heard of Germaine Greer or Mr Booker himself, Peter Carey? Not my faves, but reading is a matter of personal taste, isn't it?

This Challenge started on 1 January 2010 and ends 31 December 2010. If you are considering joining up, here are the rules:

1. Write a challenge sign-up post on your blog  In that post provide a link to the original post:
acknowledging Booklover Book Reviews and put the Challenge Button on your sidebar (grab mine), linking the button to the challenge post.
2. Add your name and the direct link to your AUSSIE AUTHOR CHALLENGE sign-up post in the Mister Linky list.
3. Decide which Aussie authors you will read in 2010, although you can change your book titles or challenge level at anytime!
4. Each time you read and review a book as part of this challenge, share this with other challenge participants by adding a direct link to your book review to the list at this post AUSSIE AUTHOR CHALLENGE Book Reviews.
5. When you have completed the challenge, add a link to your completion post here: Completion Post List.

If you would simply love to read some excellent book reviews, there are over 100 already written, so click on the AUSSIE AUTHOR CHALLENGE Book Reviews link above and read to your heart's content.

Here is my first book review for this challenge.

Breath, by Tim Winton - not just another book about surfing...

Tim Winton, a major Australian novelist, is categorised by some as a sort of beach poet, a creator of sprawling epics inflected by the grandeur of the landscape they inhabit. His subject is dark and at times troubling.

In many ways Breath is almost archetypal in its simplicity compared to many of Winton’s dark stories. Two friends, Bruce "Pikelet" Pike and Loonie, outsiders for different reasons, discover surfing, drawn to its intoxicating thrill. The breaks the teenagers surf are wild and often lonely and certainly dangerous, but they get to know some of the other surfers who visit them, including the enigmatic Sando, a lone wolf, wild-man surfer. Through Sando, Pikelet and Loonie meet Eva, Sando's wife, a former champion freestyle skier crippled by a ruined knee.

As Sando initiates the two boys into the mysteries and terrors of surfing's outer reaches, encouraging, cajoling and finally bullying the two of them into joining him in taking greater and greater risks, they become a "select and peculiar club . . . a cult. Sando and his maniacal apprentices".

But as the waves they surf grow larger, the breaks more dangerous, Pikelet grows less easy with Loonie and Sando's patronage, until finally Sando and Loonie disappear overseas on a surfing trip in Indonesia, leaving Pikelet behind. Left to their own devices, Pikelet and Eva slip heedlessly into a sexual relationship, something Pikelet believes is love and Eva sees as something quite different.

Breath is not the first time Winton has written about surfing. But in Breath that understanding is married to a sense of what Pikelet calls the "primary thrill of surfing, the huge body-rush we got flying down the line with the wind in our ears. We didn't know what endorphins were, but we quickly understood how narcotic the feeling was, and how addictive it became; from day one I was stoned from just watching".

The subject is one that allows Winton the space to unravel his remarkable linguistic gift for evoking place and the complex webs of association that bind people to the landscapes they inhabit. The repeated deployment of this gift to re-create the relatively confined setting of Winton's novels has led to him being regarded as a quintessentially Australian writer. Some reviewers consider Winton as the inheritor of the same American tradition as Cormac McCarthy, Annie Proulx or Jim Harrison, a tradition that for all its affinities with Carver's brand of pared-back social realism, owes its greatest debt to Faulkner.

It's unlikely Winton has ever written as well as he writes in Breath, a book that marries the lyricism of work such as his wonderful Cloudstreet to the adamantine hardness of the stories in The Turning. I love how his descriptions of the ocean leap from the page, revealing this wild landscape with a clarity and an intimacy that lets us see it all over again. Yet simultaneously this lyric imagination is further deepened by the darkness lurking behind it. For as Pikelet comes to realise, surfing may be beautiful but it is also something more: a pretext for a particular kind of male (and, as the ruined freestyler Eva demonstrates, sometimes female) risk-taking behaviour; a need for danger that is in its own way as addictive as drugs or drink or any one of a range of self-destructive behaviours.

And while Winton is not the only writer to have plumbed this dark side of surfing - the American Kem Nunn, whose work Winton has himself praised, has built a career around depicting the macho world of surfing with chilling accuracy - Breath's looping structure and glancing depiction of the damage wrought on Pikelet lends its questions about the cost of such behaviour with real poignancy.

In a way Breath is a sort of coming-of-age story, perhaps one you might normally expect to find in the work of a much younger and less-experienced writer. Yet Winton nails it.

Its seeming simplicity is deceptive, for beneath its pared-back surfaces lies all the steel of a major novelist operating at full throttle in a territory he has spent 25 years making his own.

Hope you enjoyed this review. Happy reading...Denise

Thanks to James Bradley, for his review in The Age. I have referred to some of his content.


  1. Good luck with your reading challenge!

  2. Wow, that sounds like a very interesting read. Exciting and sad...I wish you luck with your challenge!

  3. This was a great review. The book sounds both compelling and emotional.
    I wish you luck with this challenge :D
    Jules @ Trying To Get Over The Rainbow

  4. Aubrie: Thank you!

    The Words Crafter: Yes, it's a great book. You learn a lot about the 1960s..:)

    Jules: Thanks. It is a good read..:)

  5. Great review. It's certainly not just about surfing and you do a wonderful job of showing that!

    Good luck with the challenge.

  6. It's a great book, one of my faves last year (review at the usual place) - I can't believe I haven't read any Winton this year... far ;)

  7. Yeh, he hasn't written that many really so shouldn't be that hard to read them all, one at a time..:)


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