Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Surfing and Breathing - Tim Winton

I have just read Tim Winton's Breath, which was published in 2008.

For those of you familiar with the writing of this Western Australian native who have not read this book, you must, it is really wonderful. If anything, he is getting better and better (which I guess is what you would expect but we have all been disappointed by writers who start out with such great promise only to embarassingly and over a long period decline in terms of quality of output).

What is this book about? It is about breathing and life. Surfing and stepping outside your own skin, even if just for a minute. The chasm which opened up between parents who lived through the Second World War and children who came of age in the 1960s. It is about doing what you dream of doing, even if only for a short period, and about how hard it can be to come to terms with the loss of a lifelong dream. It is about addiction, and living on the edge of life. And most of all perhaps, about being an adolescent, the decisions we make when we are young, and those life changing events which live with you forever.

In essence it is a memoir of Bruce, who describes growing up in south west Western Australia in the 1960s, his discovery of surfing, his friendship with the completely crazy and appropriately named Loony and his entanglement with the lives of a mysterious couple, Sando and Eva, whom they befriend. Sando and Eva live near the beach, between their grim little mill town and the aqua edges of the surf at the Indian ocean.

Tim Winton is such an evocative writer, you barely need any imagination at all. His passages about the obsessive challenges presented by surfing and the risk of it all are wonderful (when you think about it unless you have actually surfed this can be very hard to get right).

Just as good are the way he handles the death of a friendship, first 'love' and the divide between parents and child.

The house in which Sando and Eva live is clearly brought to life. They could be described as hippies, but we learn they are hippies of means. When one has been raised, as Bruce has, in the straitened, chintzified environment of his conservative parents, a house with rough plaster walls, a hammock and airy open wooden rooms is quite a shock to the system.

I see one of those silvery wooden beach houses you used to see everywhere along the Australian coast line, sitting gently on the curve of the dune with lots of scrappy srubby bushes all over the place, the sandy dust washing over the steps up to the entry, where Eva spends a lot of time, sitting and looking out.

And this to me is the kitchen where Bruce first learned that Eva had a past, and a painful disability which she grappled with every day.

Tim Winton is the quintessential Australian writer. His work has that rare combination of readability and literacy. He has won the most prestigious Australian literary award (the Miles Franklin Award) four times, including for this book.

In an interview he said in response to a question about 'what is down there in the sea':

Well, less than you think and more than you think. Do you know what I mean? When you're a teenager you feel overcome by all these problems. Everything seems enormous. Everything seems big. You seem tiny and bewildered. So, in a way, jumping into the ocean and diving deep was a way of getting over myself, you know, a way of leaving myself, not worrying that I wasn't tall enough, that I wasn't skinny enough, that I wasn't smart enough, that, you know, you didn't get the girl. You jump in the water and just... It was like a hallucinatory experience, you know? Fish, sharks, dolphins, seals and weird noises, like something out of a Kubrick movie.

I say, if you want to understand an Australian, read a Tim Winton book.

(Images (2) (3) (4) Quote from Enough Rope


Lee said...

Jane, what a superb analysis of Tim Winton's writing. I haven't read Breathing (yet), but Dirt Music is one of my absolute favourites - such an evocative piece of Australian writing - and it still resonates with me even today. I must go back and re-read it, or perhaps just jump right in to 'Breathing'. Lee :)

Julie@beingRUBY said...

Yes Jane, I agree with Lee a fascinating account of this book.

You have me wanting to run out and buy it. I haven't read this book nor any of his work but I suspect it the book a work colleague was describing to me.. He said he couldn't put it down. I'll have to put it on my list whenever I actually get time to read again.. haha

So.. I love the photos you included also. I think I may know this first one and the inside is as intriguing as the outside.

Have a great week and thanks for you comments over my way... much appreciated x Julie

Jacqueline @ HOME said...

Hi Jane,
Do you think that this book would appeal as much to an Englishwoman (me!!) as an Australian ?
I just wondered if there were a lot of Australianisms(?), or if it was universal.....I don't even know if we can get it here, but it sounds very interesting and descriptive and appeals to me very much.

Jane said...

Hi Jackie - yes it has been published in a zillion countries and I don't think it has too much jargon \ Oz slang in it. And if it does its not much. I think it is a universal book, definitely. No 'drongo' or 'she'll be right' that I can recall. Go to WH Smith they will have it. xoxo

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