Breath by Tim Winton


Audiobook.  This is one of those books that you are sad to have finished.  The story is told by Bruce Pike, looking back on his adolescence in a small town in Western Australia.  He is befriended by a daredevil kid called Loonie (an accurate name) who introduces him to the thrill of danger.  They take up surfing, and eventually are taken under the wing of an older surfer named Bill Sanderson.  Sando takes them into ever more dangerous territory.  The first of these was to a secret place for surfing he calls Barneys.  Barney is the shark that inhabits these waters, and in describing him to the boys, Sando says, he has a grin like "Richard fuckin' Nixon."  Asked why he is called Barney, he says, "I named him after Eva's old man.  He thinks I'm a waste of skin.  He won't eat me up, right, the father-in-law, but he likes to show the ivories every now and then, just to remind me who's boss." 

Essentially Sando is a kindly guide who loves danger, but is not crazy, unlike Loonie.  Nevertheless, eventually Bruce is abandoned by Sando in favor of Loonie.  Bruce falls in with Eva, Sando's American wife, who, it turns out is quite troubled herself.  It takes Bruce years to overcome the trauma of her method of thrill-seeking. 

All this seems awfully dark, but it was a pure pleasure to listen to.  There are lots of funny bits and then there's Winton's elegant descriptions of surfing and his love of the water.  I won't forget the image he creates with the phrase, "men dancing on water."

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