Breath - Book of the Month
by Tim Winton
The small town of Sawyer near Perth in Australia is the setting for an extraordinary novel from the author of CLOUDSTREET, THE RIDERS and the great collection of stories, THE TURNING.
Bruce Pike (Pikelet) is the only child of emigrant parents whose steadying experience of nightly bombing raids during the London blitz has stayed with them. Work at the sawmill and fishing the river on Sunday is all the excitement his father enjoys; his mother is happy with her hens, her needlework and caring for her little family. Together they listen to the 'wireless' in the evening and spend afternoons attending to their vegetable garden. Pikelet has arrived rather late in this uneventful household, and is all the more welcome for that. Living within the sound of the Indian Ocean, they are afraid of the sea and neither has ever learned to swim. Against this background, Pikelet is drawn to Loonie, a pub-bred, feral stray, whose addiction to danger has set him beyond the pale even in Sawyer. Their love of swimming and the sea is really all they have in common. Together they sneak off down to the beach to watch older boys surfing the great Atlantic waves, and soon they are daring each other on their own small surf boards.
Meanwhile, at International level, Sando and Eva Sanderson have both excelled at their own extremely dangerous sport. Surfing magazines feature Sando at Hawaii, Sunset Beach, Pipeline and Makaha. Full page ads for Dewey Weber surf boards picture him riding impossible waves at Spiney Reef. Eva was famous for ski-ing freestyle, jumping off high ramps and turning 360 degrees in the air. At Utah in 1971 she had landed awkwardly and damaged her knee beyond mending. They have come to live in a remote house near Sawyer, she to recuperate, he to surf the most dangerous waves he could find along the coast.
Of course, the day that Pikelet and Loonie fall in with Sando the boys' lives are completely changed. Catching his addiction to risk takes them to places they could never have imagined. Rivals for Sando's approval, the two boys push themselves to the limit in fear and exhilaration. Sando, feeding on this adoration, teaches them to defy the treacherous power of the sea. Eva stays at home, nursing her broken knee and her longing. When he becomes involved with her, Pikelet finds himself seriously out of his depth.
The novel is about addiction in its different forms and what happens when addictions are carried to extremes. It’s about pushing yourself to the limit, even if death is the price of that ultimate high. Tim Winton writes brilliantly and powerfully, and with understanding about a subject as elusive as it is deadly: this novel celebrates him at his best yet. He was pipped at the post for the Booker Prize with two other novels – THE RIDERS and DIRT MUSIC – so we’re keeping our fingers crossed for this one.
Read our 2008 interview with Tim Winton.