Carmen Lawrence reviews Tim Winton’s new novel Breath for the Australian Literary Review. There are two points that seem worth noting. First, she describes Winton as a ‘tradesman’:
Winton has often said that he regards himself as a tradesman rather than an artist; in Breath he confirms his status as a consummate wordsmith who can take our breath away with the pungency of his portraits of the landscape.
The craft analogy in writing seems to bolster our confidence in reading Winton. We can feel sure that the illusions he creates on the page are well made and will not show cracks that threaten our suspension of disbelief.
The second point is about his celebration of the ‘ordinary’:
Winton has often said that he thinks the ordinary things in life are worthy of celebration and that he tries in his writing to have the commonplace "looked at anew". Whether it is the Lambs and the Pickles in Cloudstreet or the old recluse in An Open Swimmer, he writes sympathetically about "people who aren’t articulate, aren’t mobile and are often alienated and powerless". He strives to render the ordinary as transcendent; he once said that "ordinary life overflows with divine grace".
Its interesting to consider this perspective alongside the ‘poor craft’ that seems distinctive to Australia. Maybe it is a way of positioning artistic creativity in a deeply egalitarian culture.
Winton does not write about grand tours through Europe. He writes about surfing, sport and lonely adolescence. His focus on the immediate common world makes him a writer we can call our own, as Chileans identify with the poetry of Pablo Neruda.