Brief Background: Bruce Pike is a middle aged ambulance driver who, after attending the scene of a dead teenager, harks back to old memories of growing up as a young boy/teen in Sawyer, Western Australia. Shaping his memories are his friend Loonie and mentor Sando, with whom Bruce fosters a passion for surfing. However, the pursuit of extreme thrills and becoming extraordinary also exemplify how when you're young and reckless, you can forget about mortality. Although the latter half of the book is considerably darker than that of the first, the experiences Winton recounts here are nonetheless familiar for anyone who has pushed the boundaries in their youth, and suffered damage as a result.
What I Liked
1. The setting. Winton has a way with words when it comes to creating a setting that no other author can match, in my humble opinion. His eloquent, beautiful prose is enchanting in a way which is quite (unfortunately) indescribable. The use of sensory language and words which evoke great emotion from the reader are particularly poignant when describing a beach setting where (it would appear) Winton feels very at home. When Piklet, Sando and Loonie are out surfing at the point you feel the exhilaration which comes from the love of the beach and the sport - and this is rapidly transformed to blind fear and anticipation when they're surfing the Old Smokey. Similarly, the depictions of Piklet's home life present a damp, dark place which he obviously doesn't feel as comfortable. Through Winton's fantastic scene setting, they reader really gets such an emotive attachment to the water, as if they really were in Piklet's world.
2. The symbolic use of breath. Laced in subtly to the prose, the symbolic breath is present in Eva's twisted obsession, Loonie and Piklet's competitive deep water diving, Piklet's eventual career and the experience of being dumped by waves in the surf. It is written into almost every dangerous, living-life-on-the-edge experience had in this book, and Winton's little quotes interlaced into Piklet's consciousness regarding it were poignant - fantastically portraying the fragility of life and how many of us in youth disregard it in our pursuit to be extraordinary.
3. The characters. Although unlikeable and frustrating at times, the varied ages and experiences of Eva, Sando, Loonie and Piklet displayed a range of experiences, values and characteristics. Winton also has a knack for portraying how one character's actions change another character's: Eva and Piklet's encounters shaping Piklet's later experiences as an paramedic, Piklet and Loonie's experiences at the Nauticus shaping Loonie as the ultimate disciple, Sando and Piklets closeness after surfing the Old Smokey creating a deep reverence towards Sando. The interactions between characters are part of what carries the novel.
What I Didn't Like:
1. Although stylistically brave and suited to Winton's prose, I didn't like the dialogue being written without quotation marks. It was sometimes confusing and odd. However, it did fit stylistically with the rest of the novel, plus, the dialogue itself was thoroughly believable, so it didn't leave too much of a sour taste.
2. The last quarter of this novel felt rushed and it would have been more subtly climactic if it were slower to reach it's conclusion. Although it appears like this was used as a device to portray the consequence of age and experience, taking less risks and picking up a damaged life and moving on, there was a lot of content here which was given very little time/words. It felt a little big contrived towards the end which I think was a shame, considering the rest of the story was absolutely brilliant.
Despite my gripe about a rushed ending, this is a fantastic and beautifully written novel. In some ways it is a classic coming-of-age tale, but it delves much deeper beneath the surface of surfing and adolescence and intricately explores the themes of fragility, mortality and damage, tied together with the want of being extraordinary, and savoring every last breath.