What I am reading: ‘Breath’ by Tim Winton
Writing a novel – a writer’s journal part 24
What I am reading: Breath by Tim Winton.
I must sadly admit that I have not read a great deal of Winton’s work-yet. It’s something I intend correcting in the coming months and years. I had previously seen a stage version of Cloudstreet which I found not only fascinating but also a test of endurance. (From memory the play goes for about five hours, plus two meal breaks.) I have also read an extract from The turning. I had heard so much said about Breath when it was first published, and again when Winton won the Miles Franklin Literary Award this year. This is the fourth time he has won the award, making him arguably Australia’s leading novelist. So it was with a heightened level of expectation I came to his latest novel.
I was not disappointed. Winton’s lyrical style oozes from the text throughout, particularly when he is describing the surfing scenes-which these are frequent-and when he refers to the West Australian landscape. Layer upon this an intriguing account of the coming-of-age experiences of two teenagers and the brooding atmosphere of the setting in both time and place, and you have the elements of a great story.
As I delved deeper into the novel I was mesmerized by the accounts of the ocean and of surfing. I’m not a surfer, nor do I enjoy swimming at the beach, but Winton’s narrative sucked me in like the incredible pull that waves and water must have on those who are obsessively compulsive surfers. I was spellbound by the simple yet profound words of a master storyteller.
There are two technical aspects I wish to highlight. There is an absence of speech marks throughout the text. I thought that this might lead to confusion on the part of the reader, but after several pages I became adjusted to this technique and read without difficulty. Mind you, I’m not about to change my writing style and copy Winton in this, not until I can also boast a string of award-winning novels to my credit-and can get away with it. Besides, I mainly write for young children and almost all publishers would frown upon this technique for children’s books.
The other technical aspect is a short comment on point-of-view. I have struggled with changing point-of-view with my work in progress. Various readers have pointed out my inconsistencies, something I will attend to on the rewrite I’m about to do. Imagine my delight when I discovered that even award winning Winton has an unexpected-but brief-shift in point-of-view. It was so obvious to me that it jarred. It is so easy to do and is something I need to be constantly vigilant about.
Despite my small criticisms, this is a novel which is destined to be held in high regard as belonging firmly in the vanguard of great Australian literary works. In fact, it will deservedly take its place amongst the great works written in English.
- Writing a novel – more articles in this series about how I went about writing my novel.
- Winton, T 2008, Breath, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, New York