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Breath

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Tim Winton is Australia’s best-loved novelist. Breath is an extraordinary evocation of an adolescence spent resisting complacency, testing one’s limits against nature, finding like-minded souls, and discovering just how far one breath will take you. It’s a story of extremes—extreme sports and extreme emotions.

On the wild, lonely coast of Western Australia, two thrillseeking and barely adolescent boys fall into the enigmatic thrall of veteran big-wave surfer Sando. Together they form an odd but elite trio. The grown man initiates the boys into a kind of Spartan ethos, a regimen of risk and challenge, where they test themselves in storm swells on remote and shark-infested reefs, pushing each other to the edges of endurance, courage, and sanity. But where is all this heading? Why is their mentor’s past such forbidden territory? And what can explain his American wife’s peculiar behavior? Venturing beyond all limits—in relationships, in physical challenge, and in sexual behavior—there is a point where oblivion is the only outcome. Full of Winton’s lyrical genius for conveying physical sensation, Breath is a rich and atmospheric coming-of-age tale from one of world literature’s finest storytellers.

218 pages, Hardcover

First published May 27, 2008

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About the author

Tim Winton

71 books1,877 followers
Tim Winton was born in Perth, Western Australia, but moved at a young age to the small country town of Albany.

While a student at Curtin University of Technology, Winton wrote his first novel, An Open Swimmer. It went on to win The Australian/Vogel Literary Award in 1981, and launched his writing career. In fact, he wrote "the best part of three books while at university". His second book, Shallows, won the Miles Franklin Award in 1984. It wasn't until Cloudstreet was published in 1991, however, that his career and economic future were cemented.

In 1995 Winton’s novel, The Riders, was shortlisted for the Booker Prize, as was his 2002 book, Dirt Music. Both are currently being adapted for film. He has won many other prizes, including the Miles Franklin Award three times: for Shallows (1984), Cloudstreet (1992) and Dirt Music (2002). Cloudstreet is arguably his best-known work, regularly appearing in lists of Australia’s best-loved novels. His latest novel, released in 2013, is called Eyrie.

He is now one of Australia's most esteemed novelists, writing for both adults and children. All his books are still in print and have been published in eighteen different languages. His work has also been successfully adapted for stage, screen and radio. On the publication of his novel, Dirt Music, he collaborated with broadcaster, Lucky Oceans, to produce a compilation CD, Dirt Music – Music for a Novel.

He has lived in Italy, France, Ireland and Greece but currently lives in Western Australia with his wife and three children.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 1,639 reviews
Profile Image for Rowan.
104 reviews159 followers
April 21, 2023
I watched Simon Baker’s film adaptation of Breath years ago. Loved it. At the time, I didn’t know it was based on a novel. When I discovered it was, I knew I had to read it. Breath, winner of the prestigious Miles Franklin, is my first Tim Winton read. I finally understand why this author is regarded one of Australia’s best.

You’re onto a winner when you find yourself re-reading certain passages – not through any lack of understanding, but simply because the prose is that good. It’s beautifully written; the ocean and surfing have never seemed so alive on the page.

“How the wave drew me forward and I sprang to my feet, skating with the wind of momentum in my ears. I leant across the wall of upstanding water and the board came with me as though it was part of my body and mind. The blur of spray. The billion shards of light.”

Breath is told through the recollections of Bruce Pike (Pikelet) - a paramedic reminiscing on his youth, following a call-out. The story is set in the coastal mill town of Sawyer, where you learn to swim in the river and catch fish with the old man. It centres on two boys, Pikelet and Loonie, who seek out adventure – anything to rise above the monotony of life in Sawyer. In doing so, they befriend legendary local surfer, Sando, who takes them under his wing.

I felt a sense of escapism with Breath. It transported me into a world that I didn’t want to leave, a decade I never lived in, yet felt nostalgic for. Time moved differently while reading this. It’s authentic and filled with vivid imagery – not just of the landscape and ocean, but the characters too.

“Slipper had a matted ginger Afro and the bloodshot eyes of a stoner. Two of his front teeth were missing and he wore an old beavertail dive suit that looked like a dingo had been at it. He sat up beside us and smiled as if he was having the time of his life.”

I couldn’t put it down. It captures Aussie life and coastal vibes unlike anything I’ve read – reminding me of childhood summers. I caught myself thinking about the book during the day, feeling like I knew the characters. It was fascinating to see them evolve, toxic relationships form, as they became hooked on adrenaline, chasing it like a drug, whatever the risk.

“I didn’t even get time to draw a breath. I was abruptly in darkness, being poleaxed across the sandy bottom of the bay, holding onto the dregs in my lungs while the grit blasted through my hair and my limbs felt as though they would be wrenched from their sockets.”

While Breath is a coming-of-age tale, it’s also much more. It’s about the ordinary vs extraordinary, and how far one is willing to push the limits in pursuit of rising above what we define as ‘ordinary.’ The title is so fitting.

Thought-provoking and powerful - I’m already looking forward to delving into the rest of Tim Winton’s work. Breath is an instant favourite.

“I wonder what the ordinary people are doin today.”
Profile Image for Suz.
1,101 reviews566 followers
March 13, 2019
I have to be honest in full disclosure to state outright that my vain celebrity interest in a certain Aussie actor happened me upon this book. And I’m so glad I did. It looks like I have a lot of great reading ahead of me, as this is my first Tim Winton novel. I think I need to hang my head low on admitting this one!

I listened to the audio version, narrated by a very capable and very smooth voiced Australian actor Dan Wyllie. This smoothness was the perfect pairing to the book.

This particular book was a very raw and personal story of surfing culture and the resulting journey and suffering of a pair of young boys as they meet their mentor. How they are enamoured by this man that is almost God like in their young and impressionable eyes. Who is this wife that is dark and brooding, what is her story?

What begins with an awe of the ocean, turns into a lifelong need for searching, searching for what is so far out of reach, but so desired, and consequences are not a consideration for anyone. Effects of this have lifelong ramifications as the boys push the limits on searching for that elusive wave. That elusive high.

Bruce Pike ‘Pikelet’ – I loved this nick name - is our main man and we see him pushing the boundaries of his body and soul in the ocean, and a sexual happening that pushes all boundaries and leads to quite a dark but real theme. This title is just perfect, and Tim Winton had me holding mine many times. I am unable to mention so many quotes I loved here, I didn’t write them down as I listened, I wanted to but it didn’t serve any purpose in interrupting the narrative.

This book is so rich and lyrical that listening to it was a perfect fit for me, the top notch narration added the next level and I truly do recommend this as the way to ride this one out. This book is not for everyone, there are themes to be avoided here but I was ok with it. Not everyone will be, and I’m bursting at the seams to see what they will do in the screen adaption with this dicey story line.

I’ll now keenly await to see what Simon Baker does with his production and acting. He surfs, he’s lived in the western suburbs of Sydney and on the far north coast of NSW. He’s got a rawness that I think will serve this venture very, very well.
Profile Image for Left Coast Justin.
390 reviews79 followers
December 19, 2022
“Never had I seen men do something so beautiful, so pointless and elegant." (Pikelet, from the 2018 film based on this novel.)

I think this is the most personally-relevant book I've ever read. The narrator and I understand each other perfectly, having had so many shared experiences.

But before I get into all that, there's the writing style, which is astonishing in its skill.

He'd seen the calluses and divots in my hands. He knew I'd earned that surfboard with a bent back and once again, after the longest time, I felt the distant glow of his respect.

Or
Whoever she was, she held my hand and spoke for a long time. But her words made no more sense than birdsong.

How many authors would have concluded that sentence with 'birdsong'?

Guru shit and bad manners are pretty much the same thing, Pikelet.

And again! 'Pikelet' is the perfect nickname for a fourteen-year-old clueless kid that hangs around the house, hoping to go surfing. And like many things Australian, this is sprinkled with great expressions.

In short, the writing is as spare and observant and impactful as anything I've read in a long, long time. I read the entire book on one rainy Sunday, but it's going to linger.

Moving on to the story, this is the first fiction I've ever read that really understands surfing, an activity that, at an earlier part of my life, consumed most of my thoughts and dreams. Hollywood and advertising, which roll surfing, substance abuse and bikinis up into one big hedonistic ball, have no clue. Surfing is enjoyable, and sex is enjoyable, and for some people alcohol and drugs are enjoyable, but surfing is 100% unrelated to those other activities. You can't surf drunk. Mother Nature is completely indifferent to your well-being, and if you're in big waves and start daydreaming about somebody you want to sleep with, you are going to get your ass kicked.

The other thing this book gets absolutely correct is the difference between knowing how to surf and learning how to surf. Learning to surf is hard, not least because you are constantly finding yourself in waves bigger than any you've ever ridden before, in the first few years. Each time, there is a plateau of fear that must be conquered -- real, serious, gut-churning fear. The majority of adults, or adult males at any rate, have few occasions to feel genuine fear, and in surfing it's compounded by the fact that you are there voluntarily and are free to leave, but chickening out carries consequences of its own. This book is impressively accurate in describing all of this.

Older surfers, those that have gotten past the urge to dazzle others with their skill, approach surfing as a "pure" activity, not unlike meditating. Ideally, Nature produces a wave, uniquely defined by swell height, wind speed and direction, the angle of light, and surfing is almost an act of interpretation, of figuring out what this wave is doing and responding accordingly. In normal circumstances, you only get a few seconds or maybe a couple minutes in return for a lot of paddling and waiting. Your success comes down to the correctness of your responses, and when things go well you are rewarded with a genuine euphoria, a feeling that sends many people into lifelong habits that requires them to sacrifice any semblance of a 9-to-5 life with spouses and kids and steady jobs and all the other little rewards of civilization.

What I think this book is about (I'll have to think about it for a few more days) is that this activity is described as "pure" because the only participants are you, seeking euphoria, and Nature, who could care less. Nature is simply there, and you are all alone in responding to it. Almost every other human activity involves other people, and accommodating other people comes at significant cost. In this book, the cost is extreme in the main narrative, but there are also plenty of people in this book for whom human relationships are a source of stability and thus quiet joy.

But ultimately, you have to choose, and the people who suffer in this book are those that can't make up their minds.

I really, really enjoyed reading this. Thank you, somebody at Goodreads, for recommending it.
Profile Image for Debra .
2,295 reviews35k followers
November 13, 2017
3.5 stars

Set in Western Australia, Breath is about a man, Bruce who is a paramedic who is looking back on his life - specifically when he was a teenager and he and his friend, Loonie used to dare each other to do dangerous things. First their stunts take place in a river near where they live then they take to surfing. There they meet and older surfer, named Sandor who also likes taking risks. Sandor grudgingly at first takes them under his wing and soon the boys and Sandor are a trio hitting the waves. They like to push themselves, to test their limits, to take dangerous chances, to engage in unsafe behavior. Throw in Sandor's wife, Eva who has her own issues and doesn't like being left alone while her husband is out surfing.

I wont say much more so as to not give away too much but can I say, I thought this book was just about boys learning to surf and pushing themselves past their limits - but it's about so much more than that. It's a coming of age tale but also it is about the choices we make and how those choices follow us throughout our lives. This book is also about taking risks, the endorphin rush of doing extreme things, making discoveries, relationships, friendship, choices, dangerous behavior and growing up.

The title is quite clever as the book touches on breathing in many ways: the boys trying to hold their breath under water for 2 minutes until they see stars, Bruce's father's snoring where Bruce observes his father doesn't breath between snores, auto-erotic asphyxiation, having the air knocked out of you by a wave, etc.

With the Australia vernacular and description of the waves and Ocean this is a very atmospheric book. The book is also beautifully written with vivid description of surfing and the Ocean. I can almost smell the sea air!

See more of my reviews at www.openbookpost.com
Profile Image for D. Pow.
56 reviews245 followers
July 29, 2010

Breath continues Tim Winton’s string of strong novels and story collections. While it isn’t quite as good as The Riders or Dirt Music or the incomparable Cloudstreet, it is a worthwhile read, full of dark impulses and sudden flashes of grace and light. Like Riders and Music, Breath deals with a middle-aged protagonist whose life has turned to ashes and bone shards, unlike those two novels the primary concern is this man’s coming of age told in retrospective.

The bulk of the novel concerns Bruce(Pikelet), the narrator, and his not quite all there buddy, Loonie and their boundary transgressing apprenticeship to a guru surfer legend, Sando. The novel, like so many others of Winton’s, is set in Western Australia amidst the beaches and fishing communities there. Winton like few other living novelists captures with precision and particulars, the beauty and raw danger of the surf life(Kem Nunn is the only one who comes close) and the capacity for a young person of a certain type to be utterly transported, transformed and defined by acts of ‘useless beauty’. Winton also has an eye for the seedy, subsistence living of the fishermen and other poor folk in the small seaside villages, for the ragged poetry of their messy, paltry lives. There is a deep compassion at work here for these ‘lives of quiet desperation’ that adds depth and an undergirding of wisdom to the macho posturing the suffuses the rituals of surfing. He is a master of descriptive writing and his gruff dialogue never strikes a false note.

Loonie, Sando and Pikelet enter into a dark, complicated relationship, each boy vying for Sando’s attention, each one receiving pride of place before being shunted aside. Winton gets how much approval can mean to a boy coming from an older male of some prowess and how this can be manipulated into something warped and wrong. Eventually Loonie becomes firmly ensconced as Sando’s disciple and Pikelet is forced to enact his own private rituals of manhood, which he does to varying degrees of success. He hooks up in an incredibly dark and lurid way with Sando’s American wife(here is a hint-it ties in with the title) and eventually breaks free to become his own troubled but self-sufficient man.

Where Breath most resembles Winton’s recent novels is in the present time sections that allows us to see Bruce fully grown, that show both his brokenness and his capacity for healing(and being a healer). Bruce has taken his addiction to adrenaline and made a vocation of it-he’s become a competent and effective paramedic. His life is littered with broken relationships but also small instances of grace and joy. He recounts what has happened to other characters in the book in a sad, sweet coda that is empty of rancor and hate despite the multiple abuses he suffered. And that is truly Winton’s greatest gift as a novelist-recognizing that the only adults worth a holy fuck in this mad world are the ones that have had their heart broken once or twice and still move through this world with style and ‘useless beauty’ even when they’ve got more duct tape left than organ in their aching chest.
Profile Image for Sharon.
991 reviews192 followers
June 14, 2014
Paramedic, Bruce Pike (Pikelet) and his partner have been called out to an emergency involving a teenager. Whilst attending to the teenager, Bruce now aged in his fifties thinks back to his own teenage years.

Pikelet grew up in the 1970's in a mill town in Western Australia it is here that he becomes friends with Ivan Loon (Loonie).
The pair spend their days surfing which is when they meet, Sando (Bill Sanderson) and his wife Eva. Sando takes them under his wing and teaches them more extreme surfing where they begin to live life on the edge that involves taking many risks.

An enjoyable read about growing up, taking risks and everyday discoveries and much more. This is the first novel I've read by Tim Winton and it definitely won't be my last. I have no hesitation in recommending this book.
Profile Image for Carolyn.
2,179 reviews618 followers
June 9, 2018
Tim Winton’s ‘Breath’ is like a long powerful wave building slowly, then breaking and crashing down to cause chaos in it's wake. It is the story of two adolescent surfers taken in tow by a veteran surfer and gradually introduced to extreme surfing and how this eventually impacts on and shapes their future lives.

Pikelet (Bruce Pike) and Loonie (Ivan Loon) are both lonely misfits in a small timber town near the coast who befriend each other one summer swimming at the river and dare each other to more and more extreme exploits. When they ride to the coast on their bikes and see the local lads surfing they know they have to give it a try. Before long they draw the attention of Sando (Bill Sanderson) a veteran surfer who takes them under his wing and encourages them to try more and more extreme surf. It’s the 70s and Sando and his American wife Eva are living a hippy lifestyle in a house set in the bush where Eva is also trying to overcome her own demons.

This story is many things. It is a coming of age story for Pikelet and Loonie as they move through adolescence. It is also about the attraction of extreme sport, the addiction to the endorphin and adrenalin rush that is hard to satisfy away from the sport and it is about the dangers of idolizing those who seem adventurous and attractive to us. It also touches on how deviant sexual practices can warp a teenage boy’s sexual awakening affecting his later life and relationships.

Although I grew up in WA and had several surfer friends, I have never been keen to try surfing but found myself enjoying Tim Winton’s descriptions of how to forecast when the surf would be good, how to pick the best position for catching a wave and the exhilaration to be had riding the wave. His writing is superb and his descriptions of the ever changing sea and the coast glorious.
Profile Image for 1morechapter.
25 reviews32 followers
November 20, 2008
Ugh. I thought this was about a teen boy surfing in Australia. I wanted it to be about a teen boy surfing in Australia. And it was, for about 150 pages, then it goes off into a weird and extreme area that I will not mention here. I feel ripped off because I enjoyed the first 3/4 of the book, but then to have to be subjected to…blech.

Pikelet and Loonie are two teenage boys obsessed with surfing. They meet up with Sando, a guy in his mid 30’s who coaches them in the sport and sometimes encourages them to go a little too far with it. Sando’s wife, Eva, was an extreme skier but now has a blown knee. Consequently, she’s bitter because her husband still gets to do what he loves and because he’s not spending any time with her. Breath is about pushing everything in life to the extreme to see how far one can go.

I’m giving it 2 stars because Tim Winton is a good writer and I enjoyed all but the last fourth (which totally ruined the whole thing for me.)

Here’s an example of a passage I did enjoy:

I will always remember my first wave that morning. The smells of paraffin wax and brine and peppy scrub. The way the swell rose beneath me like a body drawing in air. How the wave drew me forward and I sprang to my feet, skating with the wind of momentum in my ears. I leant across the wall of upstanding water and the board came with me as though it was part of my body and mind. The blur of spray. The billion shards of light. I remember the solitary watching figure on the beach and the flash of Loonie’s smile as I flew by; I was intoxicated. And though I’ve lived to be an old man with my own share of happiness for all the mess I made, I still judge every joyous moment, every victory and revelation against those few seconds of living.
Profile Image for Alex Cantone.
Author 3 books34 followers
October 5, 2018
Being afraid, said Sando. Proves you’re alive and awake.

Tim Winton’s modern classic of coming-of-age in the seventies in Western Australia, is almost lyrical in its imagery of seascapes and landscapes, and emotional turmoil. The story follows teenager Bruce Pike (Pikelet) from adolescent bravado through to middle-age, risk-averse melancholy. With his best friend Loonie, the teenage Pike falls in with enigmatic adrenaline junkies Sando, riding the illusive wave, and his American wife Eva.

The first sun gave the water a benign sheen and for a few moments there was nothing to see, little enough for a swoon of relief to course through me. I was, I thought, off the hook. And then a mile out I saw the sudden white flare. A plume of spray lifted off the bommie like the dust kicked up by a convoy of log-trucks and after a second’s delay the sound of it reached us. Now that was a noise to snap a boy out of his dreamy sense of wellbeing.

I was never much interested in surfing – and those movies with the pounding heavy metal riffs proved a turn-off. And yet I was mesmerised. Felt the icy cold water, heard the pounding of the surf, saw the imagery rocks bearded in lichen as if I standing there myself. The exhilaration, pain and fear as pages seemed to turn themselves.

One of the finest books I have read this year, made the more so by the sparse style. Winton makes little use of italics, punctuation is reduced to full-stops (period to our friends from across the Pacific), the odd question mark and apostrophe; no inverted commas to separate dialogue from narrative; the dialogue short, pithy and authentically Australian, or Eva’s Utah drawl. The words flow effortlessly.

Verdict: sheer brilliance.
Profile Image for Vanessa.
462 reviews290 followers
January 15, 2023
They say only a surfer knows the feeling and you can tell by the writing that Tim Winton knows the intricacies of the ocean intimately, his depth of knowledge of the water is breathtaking the writing sharp and surreal with a natural flow. He really transports you making you feel like the words are washing over you. I loved this simple story of young grommet ‘Pikelet’ searching for a way to mark himself different from the mundanity of his small town life to make his life less ordinary and the one place he feels like he achieves this is in the wild unpredictable terrain of the ocean. Abit of a healthy rivalry ensues with his daring and fearless best mate Loonie and a mentor who pushes the boys to their limits and beyond testing their friendship and upping the stakes. I really enjoy and appreciate the distinct style in which Tim Winton writes you always know it’s going to be a good yarn, the story is nostalgic and makes you feel a little bit homesick for those long carefree Aussie summer days of youth. The story didn’t exactly go where I was expecting, besides a few questionable moments the story was engaging even though a great portion of the book revolves around surfing culture and goes into a lot of detail of the sport itself.
Profile Image for notgettingenough .
1,026 reviews1,184 followers
October 28, 2020
This piece on South Australia's 'wild west surf wars' made me realise how true Breath is.

https://www.abc.net.au/news/2020-10-2...

-------------------------

If only 'easy to read' were not a deprecating statement in the world of the literary canon. I very much doubt that this book was easy to write. It's a book where surfing looms large and yet it isn't boring, or trite, or trivial. That in itself seems an achievement.

But it isn't a book about surfing. Nor is it a book about adolescence. Sorry, The Guardian, but it isn't a 'coming of age surfing novel'. It's a book about a man and how he became what he is. It's very sad, and despite that I found it impossible to put down.

 
Profile Image for Kim.
426 reviews508 followers
November 25, 2013

Tim Winton has beguiled me into loving a novel which deals with two subjects that don't interest me at all: teenage male angst and surfing as an extreme sport. The subject matter is why I didn't read the novel when it was first published and it probably would have remained forever unread had I not embarked on a Tim Winton kick after reading The Turning: Stories and his latest novel Eyrie. I listened to the audiobook edition, which was very capably narrated by Australian actor Dan Wyllie.

While teenage male angst, surfing and other dangerous activities feature prominently in the novel, there's more to it than that. Winton deals with risk taking, with the desire to be extraordinary, with the fragility of the human body and mind and the urge to survive, even when the odds are against you. The breath symbolises Winton's themes in a number of ways throughout the work: holding it, playing with it, losing it, regaining it, working with it to create music, giving it to save lives.

Winton's language is, as always, a perfect blend of Australian vernacular and poetry, with vivid descriptions of the natural environment, believable dialogue and characters who, while not necessarily likeable, are understandable and for whom it is impossible not to feel compassion. This is a short, beautifully crafted, powerful work.

Profile Image for Sam.
49 reviews23 followers
February 7, 2017
I've just finished this book in one sitting ... I woke up and in an attempt to get back to sleep I picked this up ... I'll be paying for that decision today - but not regretting it for a second ...

Put aside for minute that I'm probably biased - Tim Winton is a Perth boy and he's set this story in a place that feels familiar and that is well loved by this chick ... but I'm lying here in bed in the city & I can smell the beach ... my shoulders are tingling with sunburn from an age ago and my eyes and throat are actually stinging from the salt of a wave that dumped and thumped me in the distant past ... Tim has succeeded in transporting me back in time to my childhood as efficiently as the Tardis ...

And what an insightful little glimpse into a stinkie boy's head this is for a girl ... for that alone I love this book

The story - gosh ... it has that same feel as some of the classics that are real, relatable tales of journey and discovery ... the metaphor between the action of the story and the themes being explored is clever

Lastly - the writing is simple and straightforward but beautiful in it's honesty ... a style I really enjoy

ack - 25 minutes until the alarm goes off
Profile Image for Shawn Mooney (Shawn The Book Maniac).
667 reviews586 followers
May 3, 2017
This was my first by Winton, and did I ever love the writing! In sentences that spark and burst, he tells the story of two Australian teen boys' enmeshment with an older hippie couple. I'd have thought the surfing scenes would bore me to tears: in fact, they were exquisite. The sharp turn near the end of the story was jarring, and a little disappointing. But still a rich, rewarding 4-star read. I am eager to read a lot more by him.
Profile Image for Ineffable7980x.
229 reviews11 followers
December 29, 2022
4.5

I had been aware of Tim Winton, but his books were not on my radar until I visited a discount book shop in my area. This shop sells back catalog books at reduced prices. I got my copy of Breath, a new trade paperback, for $5. The blurb sounded interesting; I'm a sucker for coming of age stories, and the book is also quite short, so I dove right in on Christmas day.

The book is set in Western Australia in the 1970s. Our narrator Bruce Pike, or Pikelet as he is called, narrates the time of his life from age 12 to age 15, when he befriended a fearless boy named Loony. The two of them love the ocean and are obsessed with surfing. They spend a lot of time diving in the waters near their home, competing to see who can hold his breath the longest. This is a partial source of the title.

It is at this point that they attach themselves to a man named Sando, aka Bill Sanderson, who emanates hippie and guru vibes. No one seems to think it's strange that a 35 year old man is hanging out with two teen boys, except possibly his wife Eva. Sando is an adrenaline addict, and he leads the boys into a cycle of testing themselves against their fear where the stakes get larger and larger.

Such a book can only end in downfall, and this one does. Winton, however, never allows himself to become sentimental. He writes in a lyrical and sharp eyed prose that never gets maudlin. The tone of the book remains very even keeled and moored to reality, even when the events become crazy and even grotesque. The writing is truly the star of this book.

The book is framed by a 50ish Pikelet who is looking back on this time through the lens of recovery. The book explores the human need to court fear and push oneself to the limit, and how that ultimately can end in pain and misery. Although it explores some very dark (and possibly triggering) events, it never allows itself to get overly grim or nihilistic. If anything, its insights brought me a great deal of hope and optimism. I really enjoyed it.

Highly recommended.

Profile Image for Roxann.
70 reviews
February 23, 2009
It makes me so sad to give this book only two stars. Winton is one of my favorite Australian writers. The first 3/4 of this book is brilliant - two young teenage boys learning to surf in Western Australia in the early 70's, pushing their limits in increasingly extreme ways in a time before extreme sports was part of the vernacular. The writing is so brilliant, so evocative and descriptive, that I wish I had tried to learn to surf. It's almost better than being there - I can see the waves, feel the pull of the surf, I'm dazzled by the shards of light as the wave crashes and breaks into pieces. The boys, nicknamed Pikelet and Loonie, are always in the water - the river, the swimming hole, the ocean - and much of their bravado has to do with holding their breath. They time one another in attempts to break the 2-minute mark, hold their breath underwater until stars pop in their head and the bank reels when they finally surface. Pikelet and Loonie eventually hook up with an older mysterious man who mentors them and encourages their daring in the surf, often in ways that are dangerous and foolhardy. Breathing becomes the metaphor for the book that eventually devolves into a story of has-been sport stars trying to recapture past thrills through pushing young devotees into rash and treacherous situations. Most disturbingly, the last part of the novel is sexually explicit and deviant. The challenge for the young protagonists is just to survive. Four stars for the first 3/4 of the novel that could have been a great teen read (or any age) with plenty of excitement, thought-provoking situations, and great writing. Zero stars for the last 1/4 that I wish I hadn't read and can't recommend to anyone.
Profile Image for ★ Jess .
198 reviews364 followers
October 28, 2012
I am lost for words. I have absolutely no idea what to think right now.
Was the plot intriguing or painfully realistic? Was the writing lyrical or stupid? Was the ending disgusting or heartbreaking?
I think that I will 'like it'. It was, after all, the most unique book Ive read in ages, probably ever.
It is certainly not what I expected, though still enjoyable. The four lead characters are amazing, proving to easily be the strength of this book. Each is unique. Each is exciting and un-predictable. They are all well devloped, have detailed backstory, and heavily flawed personalities, showing that no matter our thoughts or how we know someone, nobody is really perfect.
Even though I didnt particularly like any of them, and am glad I dont know them in person, I had a great time reading about Bruce and Loonie and Sando and particularly Eva.
This book, thinking about it, has me breathless. (Awful pun, not intended).
In answer to the questions asked at the beginning of this review, the plot was intriguing, writing was lyrical and the ending (last fifty-ish pages) was heartbreaking.

Here is my favorite passage, which needs to be read by all:
"More than once since then I've wondered weather the life threatening high jinks that Loonie and I and Sando and Eva got up to in the years of my adolescence were anything more than a rebellion against the monotony of drawing breath."
Profile Image for Jennifer.
Author 3 books186 followers
July 14, 2008
I really, really loved this novel of two Australian teenage boys and their obsession with a has-been 70's surfing guru and his angry, bitter young wife. The surfing descriptions made my heart pound, and the narrative builds and breaks just like a wave, from a slow, thoughtful beginning to a tension filled climax that crashes down into a boiling, foaming conclusion. I loved what Winton had to say about the nature of obsession, of what it means to be a man, and the fragility of relationships based on mutual addiction. Winton also beautifully captures the meaning of "breath" both literally and conceptually, and how for some, the living of an "ordinary" life can feel like drowning. But he also illustrates through his conflicted characters how endlessly seeking the extraordinary can leave you gasping as well. I haven't read this amazing Aussie's other works, but you better believe I'll be browsing his backlist!
Profile Image for Philippe.
619 reviews507 followers
December 6, 2017
At the heart of this brilliant coming of age story sits the destructive conflict between pure exaltation and asphyxiating defilement. The young mind should not, cannot deal with these two extremes when they are tied to the same time, place, practice and personalities. The result can only be an utter wreckage. Winton’s prose evokes this tension between light and darkness to chilling effect. A wonderful, very disturbing novel.
Profile Image for Suzie.
744 reviews15 followers
October 14, 2017
*Full disclosure: I am NOT a TW fan, and only read this because it is this month's choice for my book club*
Didn't much like this book but I didn't dislike it enough to chuck it after my self-imposed "50 pages or it's gone" rule, hence the 2 stars. Some of the surfing description I found a bit boring and repetitive, and I really hated the "twist" which seemed to be shoved in there along with a few later comments in order to link back to the story's beginning. This book is not for me, but I managed to finish. Am still confounded as to why TW is so popular - clearly I just don't get it
Profile Image for George Ilsley.
Author 12 books229 followers
September 30, 2021
Winston manages to achieve hyper-realism and a dreamy transcendence all at the same time. This is a writer who never disappoints.

Breath is a coming-of-age story, but also portrays a character who refuses to grow up in many ways. There are undercurrents in this novel, and motivations can be murky. If you get caught in a rip, or slammed by a wave, you might not be able to claw your way to the surface and find a breath of clean air.
Profile Image for Philip.
Author 8 books126 followers
April 7, 2016
Breath by Tim Winton is a deceptively complex novel wrapped in an apparently simple tale. On one level it might be a story about surfing. It isn’t. On another level, it’s a straightforward coming-of-age novel, where an adolescent lad is introduced to the tingling realities of maturity. But it is more than this. Breath might also be about small town lives, the limits of friendship, or our ability to seek gratification by selfishly exploiting circumstance. Equally, it might be about the relentless restlessness of ambition and the illusion of achievement, the elation of success alongside the disillusioning devastation of failure. Breath’s complexity, expressed through its utter simplicity of setting and construction, is immense, for it is all of these things and more besides. Breath is also vivid, brilliant, even glittering in its conjuring of pictures that communicate the landscape, or seascape, of its setting.

Breath’s central character, Bruce Pike, is now in his middle age and works as a paramedic. But as an adolescent, he lived through a coming-of-age amidst the thrills, dangers and challenges of surf. He rode the waves of his youth and survived to tell the tale. And thus the novel opens with the mature Pike attending the scene of a suicide. A kid has hanged himself, taken his last breath, and denied himself all others. It’s a mess. But the experience prompts Bruce to recall his own youth and begin a detailed recollection of just a few years in his early teens.

It is only late in the story that we realise how these events at the outset triggered Bruce Pike’s memories. It is only then that we realise that Bruce’s exploits in his youth, like those of his associates, are an extended metaphor relating to a constant need to push life to its limits, perhaps in order to feel more alive by flirting with death.

The young Bruce Pike is nicknamed Pikelet. He doesn’t seem to be particularly strong or macho. He lives in a small place in Australia close to the sea. He becomes friendly with Ivan Loon, aptly known as Loonie, and together they develop an interest in surfing, an interest that becomes an obsession. The waves always need to e bigger, the challenge more threatening, the risk closer to the impossible. Why would we bother if it were otherwise?

Loonie and Pikelet become ever more ambitious. They deliberately court danger in the form of breakers, reefs and sharks. There’s even a looming possibility of confrontation with lads from the next town. They meet Sando and Eva, an Australian bloke and an American woman with a limp. The three males soon bond and take to the water together. The apparently surly Eva stays at home. The lads meanwhile surf wherever and whenever they can. Bruce’s descriptions of their experience are electrifying, exciting and truly beautiful. The language is poetic, evocative of the exhilaration of surf.

But life moves on. Just as waves break unpredictably, life can split apart and thus surprise. Pikelet’s apparently indestructible friendship with Loonie withers and breaks. There is betrayal and exclusion in the air. Eva, tired of being left alone, but probably unwilling to admit it, seeks her own gratification in a way that changes the young man’s life. But she is a wounded woman and, like the surfers, needs to feel the rush of risk. In some ways her life is too safe. An inheritance takes care of the finances, an injury determines her movement and thus denies her the adrenalin rush of danger she craves. So she invents an alternative route to risk, something that gives her the sharpness of breath that only true excitement, uncontrollable excitement, can generate. And Pikelet thus becomes part of Eva’s version of surfing a crest. He is a participant, part of the plot, a plot that then turns on itself as the metaphor of breath re-emerges. The submerged surfer learns to hold his breath, but Eva needs no sea to surf.

The precise, detailed memories of adolescence then suddenly fade into decades lived apparently in summary. But as events merely flash past, the preceding extended memories remind us that perhaps each one of the subsequent, apparently dismissed events probably involved surfing as close to the edge as happened in adolescence. Perhaps we get used to the ride, and its risks, and that’s what gives us time to catch our breath, as life’s breakers cast us aside.
Profile Image for nastya .
419 reviews257 followers
June 10, 2021
My first Tim Winton and a dud.
I don't know what I expected but not something as basic and uninspired. I don't know, let's say not my cuppa tea. And heavy on Australian colloquialism, he was really dialing it up and I read Australian authors before.

This is a coming of age story of two 13 year olds, one is mean, competitive and jealous, sad older hippie dude and his sad crippled wife, game of chicken, adrenaline junkies and then the whole ending was me rolling my eyes. And a lot of surfing.
Nothing felt fresh. If I would describe it as movies, it would be:
Point Break + Mud + The Reader



Profile Image for Tom Mooney.
616 reviews157 followers
December 22, 2020
Man, this hit me like a tonne of bricks. A spare, poetic and dark coming-of-age tale, depicting two teenagers as the innocence of their youth is ripped away by exposure to the world of adults.

The writing about surfing is absolutely exhilarating. Winton captures those moments where excitement tips over to sheer fear so, so perfectly. I read all those passages with my heart beating out of my chest.

Stunning.
Profile Image for Will.
209 reviews
November 16, 2018
Only my second novel by Winton - I didn't love it as much as I did The Shepherd's Hut, but it was still really impressive and I teetered between a solid four stars or going a bit higher. It was excellent. My plan is to keep on reading all the Winton novels that I missed when first published, something well worth pursuing.
Profile Image for Jaimal.
Author 18 books183 followers
January 12, 2009
Breath is a masterfully written tale of what it means to live in extremes; and since most of us, in our own ways, do, it’s a tale about what it means to be alive.

I’m ashamed to say that I only heard of Tim Winton when a blogger recently wrote that Saltwater Buddha: a surfer's quest to find Zen on the sea reminded him of Winton’s surf literature. I am now very honored to be mentioned in his company.

A novelist with a voice no one could copy, Winton’s ability to be colloquial while employing phrases and vocabulary that make literary geeks froth is both entertaining and incredible. It took me 30 pages to get into Breath’s subtle flow, the off-handed remarks, the Australian slang. But the narrative picks up speed as it goes and once in I scarcely wanted to put the book down.

I especially enjoyed the first half when the main character and his fearless best friend Loonie are bathing in the sheer magic of water and, as they get older, the pastime that will obsess them the rest of their lives: surfing. Winton deftly captures what it is to be a wide-eyed little grommet enamored with the water life: with pushing the limits of breath retention, with unbelievable fact that humans can ride pulses of saltwater, with learning the endless complexities of how weather affects the sea.

As their mentor Sando, an extraordinary older surfer who seems most motivated by his fear of the ordinary, pushes the two teens to confront their fears in sharky and death-defying surf, you feel the magic of childhood innocence slipping sadly away. But with each wave conquered you do feel something new and mysterious gurgling to the surface, something not unlike like air bubbles that might burst prematurely at any moment. The fear that they will bust into oblivion is what keeps you hanging on Winton’s every word – even through the novel’s tougher parts.

Profile Image for Deborah Ideiosepius.
1,626 reviews127 followers
February 12, 2018
Brilliant! I loved every page of this book.

We start with Bruce Pike, an older paramedic in WA, called out to a teenage adventure gone wrong. The scene brings back memories of his teenage years and we scroll back through his memories to his childhood and adolescence not far from the WA coast, in a small rural town.

The scenario is simple but the storytelling is mesmerising and the writing is superb. I was totally immersed in this book even before we hit the coast and we travel along with Bruce as him and his mate become surfers under the tutelage of a local surfing legend.

As always, it is Tim Winton's amazing ability to describe nature that enchants me, I love reading about the ocean, it's mood and the emotions it provokes in people. Winton's strength is his ability to describe nature, so (apparently) effortlessly that you can smell the salt air and feel the crunch of sand under you feet as you read and I loved every page of this one.

Good ending too.
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