Winton's numinous Breath


A few weeks ago Tim Winton's latest novel, Breath, was named winner of this year's Miles Franklin Literary Award. The video featured here is a trailer for Breath, and it's a gem. Inspired by scenes from the book, in just over six minutes the video gives surprising insight into the atmosphere and themes of this powerful and disturbing tale. (Continues below)

Breath is a coming of age story following the main character Bruce Pike, nicknamed 'Pikelet', and his mate Loonie as they test physical and psychological boundaries. They push themselves to the limit, and beyond, in the surf off the Western Australian coast, and in sexual misadventures.

Breath is Winton's eighth novel for adults. Altogether he's written 20 books, including short story collections, books for children and teenagers, and non-fiction. Four of his novels have won the Miles Franklin Award, the others being Shallows (1984), Cloudstreet (1991) and Dirt Music (2002). This is a truly remarkable achievement.

The judges of the award were unequivocal in their praise of Breath:

'The novel is an anatomy of masculinity — Tim Winton writes as well as anyone living about the interior lives of men. It is also a parable about compulsive attraction to danger, written in a style that is indelibly Australian and yet universal in its moral concern. It raises dark questions about desire and 'the damage done' when desire becomes all consuming. This is Winton's most disturbing novel yet, and his most compelling.'

I must admit to mixed feelings about this book, and the others of Winton I've read. I find in particular his portrayal of Aussie mateship is sometimes overblown, tipping over into ocker clichés and stereotypes. But he has great empathy for the underdog, and writes well about the bonds in ordinary families.

And I love his description of his beloved Western Australian coastline. He evokes the experience of water, of the sea, waves, currents, sand and surf with both immediacy and transcendence. As a reader you are taken there so you can see it, smell it, feel it. But you are also taken beyond it and given a sense of its numinous power and beauty. This is where I find him compelling.

While I have reservations about his writing, I have none about this video. It's a poetic combination of strong images, haunting music, brief quotes, and eloquent interview with the author. Of his motivation, Winton says, 'I've been writing novels about the coast of Western Australia for 25 years. Small town life, people who don't say much but have secrets and dreams they keep close to their chests. I keep coming back to them as if I can't shake them off.'

I'm also full of admiration for Winton himself. Though a highly accomplished writer, he has kept his life simple. He is self-effacing and shuns the limelight. He has eschewed celebrity. Long may he keep writing. And, hopefully, future books might also have such high quality video companions.

Peter KirkwoodPeter Kirkwood worked for 23 years in the Religion and Ethics Unit of ABC TV. He has a Master's degree from the Sydney College of Divinity.

Topic tags: peter kirkwood, video review, tim winton, breath, Miles Franklin Literary Award



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Existing comments

Thanks, I too like the video and am currently reading Breath. I like the setting and the storyline but find the maleness unsettling perhaps its the ocker nature or my frustration that the characters won't communicate their feelings. I find I have an internal tussle always when reading Winton as I want to shake his characters and get them to communicate more effectively!
Carol | 22 July 2009

Carol, it's interesting that you seem to concur with my view about the 'ocker' nature of Winton's writing. I've found a number of my female friends have a similar reaction. Perhaps there is a gender difference in appreciation of his books.
Peter Kirkwood | 23 July 2009


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