I first heard of Breath when I saw its movie trailer before the screening of another book-based, coming of age film, Call Me By Your Name. For many Australian school students, Tim Winton’s works are often the subject of much analysis, but Breath was the first novel that I read by the acclaimed author.
Winton’s eighth novel perfectly encapsulates 1970s Australian surf culture, and is written from the perspective of middle-aged Bruce ‘Pikelet’ Pike, as he reflects on his youth in the fictional mill town, Sawyer and the coastal town of Angelus. The child of conservative, English emigrant parents, Pikelet is discouraged from swimming in the ocean, but after meeting Ivan ‘Loonie’ Loon, a local urchin who lives at the pub, he begins to venture out to Sawyer Point to surf.
Breath details the rivalry that grows between the pair, as they compete for praise from former pro-surfer, Billy ‘Sando’ Sanderson. After first meeting at the Point and allowing the boys to leave their surfboards at the house he shares with his young American wife, Eva, Sando encourages Pikelet and Loonie to engage in more risk-taking behaviour, braving the surf in the perilous Old Smoky bombora, where enormous waves break over a reef bank.
Breath’s strengths lay in its ability to engage all the senses, from waves that sound like ‘sheetmetal shearing itself to pieces’ to the daily bus ride to school, with ‘smells of vinyl and diesel and toothpaste, corrugated-iron shelters out by the highway, rain-soaked farmkids’ and ‘the spidery handwriting of homework done in your lap’. Breathing is a phenomenon that pervades the novel, from Pikelet and Loonie challenging one another to hold their breath underwater, to Pikelet’s father’s snoring habits. Winton’s detailed descriptions make readers increasingly aware of their own breathing patterns.
‘Carn’, ‘orright’ and ‘bommies’ are just a handful or Australian terms that are threaded throughout the novel, and references to ‘Sherbet and AC/DC tunes’ playing at the school social also help to paint the picture of Western Australia in the ‘70s.
Breath is an exceptional read that warns of the dangers associated with reckless choices, and emphasises the importance of considering the consequences of your actions.
Now a major motion picture starring Simon Baker and Elizabeth Debicki, set to be released in June 2018.
– Emily Pullen, WHSmith Australia