Had this been the only Tim Winton book that I had ever read, I too would be throwing every award that I could at it: last night it was announced that it had won the Age Book of the Year.
Like the swell of ocean waves, you think that it’s building into a surf-story, then all of a sudden you realise that you’re into the full-blown coming-of-age story complete with betrayal, sexual experimentation, parental estrangement, empty dreams and disillusionment. It has it all: beautiful writing that just takes you along with it, a wry narrator whom you almost instantly like, a love for the ocean, and an ease of telling that is sure without being pretentious. Much like the public persona of Tim Winton himself, it seems.
And I guess that here lies my problem with it. I’ve read several Tim Winton books, and I feel as if I’m reading the same story again and again. His evocation of his Western Australian roots, his Christian background, his middle aged male protagonists, his collection of broken, betrayed and disillusioned people…they’re all there in The Riders, Dirt Music, The Turning and now again in Breath. The sheer exuberance of Cloudstreet- probably my favourite Australian novel- seems a long time ago, and it was. He does Angelus, and his nostalgic male protagonists very, very well. But I think of other authors- Peter Carey, Margaret Attwood, Joyce Carol Oates- who really stretch themselves and their writing into new shapes and places and I wish that, perhaps, he was a bit braver.