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Swallow the Air

3.3  ·  Rating details ·  320 Ratings  ·  45 Reviews
In 2006, Tara June Winch’s startling debut Swallow the Air was published to acclaim. Its poetic yet visceral style announced the arrival a fresh and exciting new talent. This 10th anniversary edition celebrates its important contribution to Australian literature. When May’s mother dies suddenly, she and her brother Billy are taken in by Aunty. However, their loss leaves th ...more
Paperback, 216 pages
Published January 1st 2016 by University of Queensland Press (first published January 1st 2006)
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May Gibson is a young woman of mixed Aboriginal and European heritage, living in disadvantaged circumstances in Wollongong. Billy, May’s older brother, is her closest companion, although he has a different father. The story follows May’s life after the sudden death of her mother when she was a child. She and her older brother Billy were taken in by Aunty, who loved them, looked after them to the best of her ability. However Aunty has alcohol and gambling problems and an abusive boyfriend. May lo ...more
Amber Robertson
Nov 05, 2016 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Just want to rate this because for almost 8 months I struggled through this book. It's not a long book either, but I struggled. I deconstructed 80% of this book and then wrote countless essays for my final year of high school. I have so much hatred for this book and the characters.

Sure, the language is beautiful. But, it's so descriptive that I was frustrated.

However, the story is both fiction and fact because the author contributes parts she herself experience. Still, this does not change my
Kelly (Diva Booknerd)
Swallow The Air is absolutely breathtaking. An emotional journey of Australia and it's indigenous community through the eyes of a young girl touched by sadness. Never have I felt so moved by any work of fiction. May was a character representative of aspects of our broken country, where Aboriginal communities are left behind while white society moves forward. Her struggle made my heart ache with grief, losing her mother at such a tender age and trying to find that sense of family once more.

The pr
Mar 22, 2012 rated it really liked it
Swallow the Air by indigenous Australian author Tara June Winch has been on Year 12 reading lists almost from its first release in 2006, and I think it’s a very good choice of text to introduce young people to indigenous writing. It’s confronting, because Winch writes with disconcerting frankness about indigenous issues and lifestyles, but it’s also beautiful, uplifting, and often rather funny. In other words, it resists attempts to stereotype indigenous people head on, and I like that.

It is tru
Oct 16, 2015 rated it really liked it
The plot of this coming of age novel is very simple - after her mother commits suicide, May, a young indigenous girl goes on a journey to find her family, her identity and the place in the world she can call home.

I found the author's writing style mesmerizing - flowing and poetic, yet simple and economical at the same time, with similes and metaphors that make you stop in your tracks and re-read them because of their originality and aptness. She excels when describing places and uses all the sen
Ian Sergeant
Nov 24, 2012 rated it it was ok
Shelves: own-softcopy
"my mother was head sick"... So begins Tara Winch's faux-memoir of May Gibson's search for her Aboriginality and home. Winch's opening leaves us with little doubt where she is taking us. It is a journey through constant jarring simile and bizarre metaphor. It is a road-trip where character development is the roadkill along the monotonous white-lined bitumen that is the plot. And the characters only elicit the same momentary empathy as those roadside victims.

By choosing to manufacture a fiction a
Mar 05, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: from-library, aww2013
It is hard to believe that this is a debut novel as Winch's writing seems to come from a place of such confidence and poise that you would assume she had many such novels already under her belt. Swallow the Air is the story of May a young Aboriginal girl who loses her mother to mental illness and suicide and who goes in search of her family roots to reconnect with her heritage.

It follows May's journey as he traces her family, first looking for her white father then travelling on to her home coun
Apr 16, 2015 rated it did not like it
I suppose somewhere in this book was an important message and important values but it was to much of a struggle to see them. The major issue with this book is that it seems to have confused a novel with a collection of phrases. Even though some of the phrases were beautiful, it did not flow, and it was difficult to read. I would not have finished this book if I hadn't needed to. This book was 90% metaphor, which made it hard to understand what was happening without huge amounts of effort. And a ...more
Rach Arthur
Sep 30, 2009 rated it did not like it
Sadly, it isn't possible to give something half a star.

It was overwritten. Her frequent, frequent metaphors rarely made sense and didn't help me connect with any of the characters (if we're supposed to like this guy, why are you describing his smile as 'curdled'?). Ultimately, I really resent that it only got published because, in the right lighting, she looks like she might be Aboriginal. Or half-Aboriginal, anyway. Maybe.
I'll try and do a better review later. for now... Heads up that there's heavy content in this: r*pe, abuse, drug use. It's a very "real" story. I'm not sure how else to describe it.
Nov 08, 2016 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
I had to read this for English, I wouldn't have read it otherwise. Not my type of book, so I found it boring.
Cass Moriarty
Jul 20, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Tara June Winch's 2006 novel Swallow the Air won the David Unaipon Award at the time, and has just been re-released by UQP in a tenth anniversary edition. This compact, taut collection of stories presents to us the raw facts of existence of the life of 15-year-old part-Aboriginal girl, May Gibson. May's mother has suicided; her father is gone; her aunty with whom she lives is caught up in a cycle of alcohol abuse and violence; her beloved brother Billy starts using drugs of many kinds - this is ...more
This book won the Unaipon award for a first novel by an Indigenous writer. And boy, this was not an easy read for me. Or an easy listen.

(I started this one as an audio book - because it was there, and because it’s even harder to find audio-books by non-white authors than paper books, especially in my most local library. But although the language sounded beautiful when read (and it was read by the author) the content was such that hearing it was hard, and I kept worrying that I would stumble ove
Isabella G.
Nov 09, 2014 rated it really liked it
I love this book. I love how refreshing it is. I love how easy it is for me to sink my teeth in it for class. I love how poetic it is and how easily it flows from one sentence to the next. For a HSC text about a topic that we've been learning about since primary school (the whole topic does get dry after a while), it was really enjoyable. This book has really helped me kick off HSC English with a good spirit because of how easy it is for me to analyse for class and how beautifully it's written.

Carolyn Mck
Oct 18, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: aww14
Winch was 23 when she published this novel, to wide acclaim. It is a beautifully written book which moved me deeply through both its style and content.

Winch, described as of Wiradjuri, English and Afghan heritage, grew up in single parent household in a housing commission estate near Wollongong, NSW. She draws on this, and her own travels across Australia when she was only 17, to give an utterly convincing account of the growing up (and growing wise) of May Gibson.

Winch employs the narrative v
Jan 01, 2013 rated it liked it
I read this book for Year 12 English [aus], and thus my experience of this novel has been a deeply analytic one.

I feel that the language is beautifully poetic; Winch has a gift of language that many others do not. Her use of metaphor is strong, yet sometimes I feel that she tries too hard to give every passage a 'deeper meaning'. Almost all sections of this book can be read as being metaphorical, and for me this detracts from the experience; metaphor should be used more sparingly than Winch has
Sally Flint
This felt more like a poem than a novel and left me with so many unanswered questions. Just how autobiographical was it - at all, or almost totally? How typical of May, the book's protagonist, is the beaten and beatings of her family life? What would it really be like to be part Aboriginal and part European hitching across Australia finding something? What was that something - self, identity, family? It was hard to pin down.

What makes it such a wonderful read is the lyrical prose; the hard hitt
Oct 12, 2011 rated it liked it
Shelves: young-adult, adult
There's a dreaming walkabout feel to the prose in this novel. The novel is important for the main character May's journey to country and for the author's lyrical writing style. At the same time that we are lulled into a sleep-like state by the slightly rocking prose, meandering between past, present and dreaming, the events portrayed are brutal and callous. It almost feels at times as though May has disengaged from events in her own life to cope with violence, tragedy and loss. An unusual but sa ...more
Ilyhana Kennedy
May 31, 2013 rated it it was amazing
What an exceptional work this is!
I found in it a heightened engagement, a lyricism that entranced me, and a content that spoke truth (I'm Australian).
There were sentences that I felt compelled to read several times over, for the pure joy of their beauty.
The author carefully crafts a composite experiential image of Aboriginal life in Australia, with a focus on the loss of the cultural markers of identity.
I hope that the author continues to write. Her work is such a valuable contribution to Austra
May 04, 2012 rated it liked it
I read this one before I put it into the primary school library and lucky I did! Definitely not suitable for little people! But apart from that, the imagery in this novel was at times quite beautiful. I guess it was intended to evoke dreamtime stories, and to that extent it did work. It could be confusing and muddled at times which made it hard going sometimes, but maybe that was intentional - to be of mixed heritage is a confusing state and finding a sense of 'home' is a challenge at the best o ...more
Dec 17, 2014 rated it really liked it
I read this book after coming across the "Cloud Busting" chapter in a collection of short stories and I found it beautiful, so thought I would read the whole book. The novel is written in a lyrical fashion, with beautifully descriptive language. However the plot was not as strong as the language. The short chapters and the jumping in time and place were easy enough to follow, but meant I hadn't fully engaged with the character's life. I gave it four stars overall because I want to give the langu ...more
Nov 08, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: forced-to-read
This is an exceptional novel, allowing a view into the life of the Australian Aboriginal community and how they see the world.
It is confronting and honest and a wonderful piece of writing. It addresses issues that are faced and discrimination and racism in open and frightful ways.

An amazing novel, not just for Australians, but also for anyone who has ever felt as though they were on the outside, it allows a view that your life is no where near as bad as you thought it was.

A fantastic novel, on
Mar 07, 2016 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: first-reads
I recieved this book through a goodreads giveaway.

Swallow the Air is about a girl called May Gibson and her search for her family and her home. Although this book was beautiful, it was also pretty confusing at times. It was hard to see what was going on sometimes. The story manages to stay interesting because of the characters and how different their lives are. It is about the indigenous people and how their lives were in Australia. I particularly liked the ending.
Jan 12, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: aussie
I had to read this for school and most of my class hated it, but I think any book that becomes required reading is generally disliked, just on principle. Personally I thought it was beautifully written, and though rather surreal at times (which perhaps made it hard to follow) it's stayed in my mind even though it's been years now since I studied it.
Rebecca Evans
Sep 24, 2013 rated it really liked it
A beautiful piece of poetic prose with lilting lyricism and quite a wonderful story that is simultaneously magical and bleak. It's not the greatest book ever written, but for a debut novel it is remarkable. May's constant flights of fancy question the ending but never has a journey home felt so true, and relatable.
Sep 02, 2014 rated it it was amazing
A confronting, confident novel by an Indigeous writer. Each chapter is a vignette and whilst it is disjointed it is reflective of the inconsistencies and obstacles we all encounter. A text to study for Yr 11+
May 10, 2009 added it
I really didn't enjoy this book, I nearly quit reading it but persisted. It was far too wandering and vague for me, I do appreciate that may have been the intention of the author but it just drove me nuts.
Sharon Lee
Apr 09, 2014 rated it liked it
Ok I'm not sure what to do with this. It's grim. I can't decide if it's a portrayal of harsh reality or if it is playing to the stereotype. It's Samson and Delilah in that it's beautiful and shameful at once. But too much too quickly?
Dec 07, 2010 rated it really liked it
A very good read. Very harsh, heart breaking and terribly real circumstances - but written so beautifully. Hard to say that I enjoyed it, because of the story contents. However, I think it was powerful in the sense that it made something difficult to hear beautiful to read - if that makes sense.
I had to read this for school and I never finished it, I mean it was really short it was also really bad. The author went to my high school and it is set in the area I live in (hence why I had to read it for school).

I did not like it, not even a little.
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Tara June Winch has written essay, short fiction and memoir for Vogue, VICE, McSweeneys (US), and various Australian publications. Her first novel, Swallow the Air won several Australian Literary Awards, and her body of work was awarded the international Rolex Mentor and Protege Arts Award in 2009. After The Carnage, her second book was published in 2016.

Her forthcoming novel is The Yield.

She resi
More about Tara June Winch...

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“She shuffled us out like two jokers in her cards reminding us to go to Auntie’s house before dark, and telling us again she loved us.” 0 likes
“It’s an odd thing, a backyard, a little strip of nature, a little reminder of the rest of it, elsewhere.” 0 likes
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