Oh dear, what can I possibly write about Breath without invoking great angst and derision from his legion of devoted fans? It’s Tim Winton’s first book in seven years, Winton the Environmentalist is a hero to lovers of pristine coastlines, the book’s on the Miles Franklin shortlist (which he’s previously won three times) and there are long lyrical passages about surfing…
I think Winton needs to get out a bit more. I thought so when I read Dirt Music, and I thought it again when I read The Turning. It’s his business, I suppose, if he wants to be the Thomas Hardy of whatever Western Australian coastal small town he lives in, but I think that he is wasting his talent because he hasn’t travelled enough and he doesn’t seem to meet a diversity of people. Why are all his characters such depressing losers?
By about half way through this novel, I was fed up. The only interesting character is the ambulance paramedic from chapter one who disagrees with his colleague about suicide as the cause of Aaron’s death – and Bruce the Adult vanishes from the story. Instead we have the nostalgic boys-own-adventure story of Bruce and his mate Looney, who spend their adolescence chasing one risk after another, egged on by their guru Sando. There are long sections about the joys and perils of surfing, which I am soooooooooo not interested in. It doesn’t take long before it’s also quite obvious where Winton is going with the theme of adolescent experimentation with risky behaviour and how it links up with Aaron’s death. He has written his own spoiler in the opening chapter (and he does it again on p157) because it is so obvious that the world-weary Bruce regrets the loss of a risk-taking friend, and it just becomes a matter of guessing which one it will turn out to be. And that’s not hard at all.
I know I’m going to be howled down by everyone for this dismissive review – try not to be too cross, dear readers!
PS (September 2014, five years later) I’ve just come across this thoughtful review from someone new to Winton. Perhaps Winton has, for some of us, become a victim of his own success and because we’ve read everything he’s written we want something new. But Rough Ghost reads Winton with a freshness that respects what he has done in Breath. Do Whatever you think about Winton, this is a review worth reading because it’s rare to find one from someone who didn’t ‘do’ Winton at school, or ‘love’ Cloudstreet.
Author: Tim Winton
Publisher: Hamish Hamilton (Penguin) 2008
Source: Personal library, purchased from Readings, $34.95