5 September 2009

Four Books I've Read Lately: 4, Breath by Tim Winton

It's wonderful what you can pick up and read for free from your local public library.

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman
The Children's Bach by Helen Garner
Lord Hornblower by CS Forester
Breath by Tim Winton

I find I can recommend all four of these books. Strangely enough, each of them has a theme connected with the idea of growing up.

Breath by Tim Winton was greeted with much acclaim when it came out, Winton being an award winning author, and this book won the 2009 Miles Franklin award, so if you want to sink yourself into beautiful writing for its own sake, this might be a good one to try. On the other hand, you might just want to read it because you like surfing.

The story starts with ambulance man Bruce coming upon a scene in which a young man has just died. As soon as he sees the young body, he understands exactly what has happened. He knows it was an accident. When he was young, he himself could have died in just that way.

It was neither the written language nor the surfing that kept my interest so much as the examination of teenage risky behaviour. One thing was obvious. Bruce lost communication with his sweet and somewhat elderly parents because he couldn't very well tell them what he had been up to.

The rest of the book goes back over his young teenage years when he went out surfing with his best mate, a damaged young boy called Loonie. Sometimes I had the feeling that Loony sought risk and the rush of adrenalin because he was so broken inside that it was the only way he could feel anything at all. The older man, Sandy, oozes masculine charm and the boys worship him as a hero and would do anything for his approval, but although he is a famous surfer, ultimately he is another character who needs to grow up.

What makes Breath brilliant is that the reader can sense things about the characters that are not explicitly revealed. What made it really interesting to me was that Bruce has a moment when he seems to have it all. He goes beyond the need for Sandy's approval. Coming of age stories usually stop at a point like that one, but Breath is not that kind of tale and it keeps on going into what happened next and on into the car crash of life brought on by the impact of irresponsible adults on his life.

Whenever I put this book down, I felt no particular urgency about taking it up again, but while I was reading it, it was lovely and, having finished it, found it was one of those books that wants to be talked about. People who love taking risk themselves might view it differently from those who don't see the point, and of course everyone is going to have their own views of the culpability of the different characters.

Morva Shepley

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