Breath by Tim Winton came to me highly acclaimed. It is a first person memoir of a man, Bruce Pike, remembering his youth growing up in the Margaret River area of Western Australia. He has since become a paramedic, and arriving at the scene of an apparent teenage suicide brings back memories of his own misspent youth.
The central theme is about fear. About meetings fears, conquering fears and most importantly learning that fear itself shouldn’t be feared or shunned. As the name suggests, it is also about breath, and how through most of our lives we breathe without being conscious that we are even doing it, but when breathing becomes difficult for whatever reason, it brings home just how important it is to sustaining life. The exhilaration that comes with regaining the ability to breathe comes from the joy of realising just how precious, and precarious life can be.
Pike grew up, during the 1970’s, in a small town that revolved around the local sawmill. He befriends another boy, known as Ivan ‘Loonie’ Loon, who has ‘never had the remotest thing in common…before we realized that we’d each independently perfecting the art of causing riverside panic.’ The two boys challenge each other to perform escalating feats of danger. This continues after the two boys discover what will become their life long passion, surfing.
Along the way they meet Sando, a retired professional surfer, and his wife, Eva. Sando, in his mid-thirties, befriends the boys and becomes a guru in the ways of surfing, and life. His philosophy is the life should never be ordinary. That a man must always be looking to push past the boundaries in order to truly live. That taking yourself to the physical limit, where life itself is in the balance, is the only way to get the most out of life.
The novel raises many important issues. The relationship and influence that Sando and his wife have over Bruce and Loonie, without any apparent awareness of any responsibility that that influence requires of them is at time quite frightening. From time to time, while telling his story, Pike reflects on the inappropriate nature of their mini-cult, and how the ramifications of his time with them impacts on his whole life.
This is brilliant book, richly deserving of the praise that has been heaped on it. It’s not an easy book to read though, it tackles some difficult subject matter and themes. It is worth the effort however. There are so many facets to this book, I am certain that I missed many of them on the first reading, and that this is a novel that needs to be read and re-read again and again to appreciate it properly.
- Cloudstreet (bondwithbooks.wordpress.com)
- The Life by Malcolm Knox. A review by author Kylie Ladd (booktopia.com.au)
- The Cloud Street of life (franmacdonaldwriting.wordpress.com)