The huge fiction release of the year is from a self-confessed coward, writes Jason Steger in the Sydney Morning Herald,25 April, 2008.
Author labove, in Denmark, Western Australia,pic by Eric Jonasson for SMH.
TIM WINTON will not be holding his breath for the publication next week of his first novel for seven years. That is probably because there are enough people in the book doing it for him.
Breath is a rites-of-passage story of Pikelet and Loonie, two risk-taking mates who team up with a gun surfer, Sando, and his fractious wife, Eva. The boys become obsessed with risk and danger. It begins simply enough, with staying under the river water for as long as possible, but moves on to the more intense physical and emotional risks posed by huge surf and confronting sexual experiences.
Winton recognises the wildness in his characters from his experiences growing up in Albany, south of Perth.
"There was this palpable compulsion towards risk," he says, "and that had to do with defeating the empire of boredom."
He and his mates drove cars recklessly, did drugs and indulged in their fair share of sexual misadventure. "In terms of me stopping at certain points, that was partly good luck as much as good management. We went very close," he says. Indeed, he reckons had it not been for his love of the ocean he would not have lived as long.
"I'm not as confident that I would have survived adolescence without it, in the sense that I did a lot less driving of fast cars than some of my other friends who died in fiery car wrecks or ended up in jail. I didn't do much in the way of drugs for the same reason: I was totally obsessed in the water, diving and surfing, and I think in some strange way you're angry for reasons that you don't even understand in adolescence. I just felt that being in the ocean I was availing myself of the world's greatest poultice."
And he concedes that at some point he was a coward. "I don't regret that. Physical cowardice has a virtue of survival."
After Breath is published in Australia and Britain next week, Winton will tour in a modest way here, then Britain, Ireland and the US. The book has been published in the Netherlands within a push to protect Dutch-language publishing.
Sydney Morning Herald link.