It was quite recently that I read a book which I approached cautiously, thinking I might not like it, but then ended up loving it. That book was Breath by Tim Winton, and yes it did take my breath away.
The reason why I thought I wouldn’t like it is because it’s an Australian book by an Australian author about an Australian pastime – surfing. It sounds horrible, but I think sometimes I have a bit of a cultural cringe about books set here. I don’t know why, and I wonder if this will disappear when I’ve moved overseas, but for the time being I tend to prefer reading books set abroad to reading books set in the land I’ve called home for most of my life. And, running somewhat against the cliché of what most Aussies do, I don’t surf and couldn’t if my life depended on it (and most Aussies don’t surf either. We also don’t ride around on kangaroos, although I have seen quite a few. All the stuff about spiders and snakes and bushfires and sharks is all kind of true though).
But for somebody who can’t surf, I found this novel about two young teenagers who become mentored by a mysterious surfer (who turns out to be a world-class professional) to be an amazingly addictive read. The story flowed so smoothly, the writing was so intense at different times as the boys attempted more daring and death-defying feats, and the imagery of it all was so evocative I could see and hear and smell the waves on each page. I was really quite stunned overall, and although the ending was a little shocking and not quite where I saw the book going, it ended up becoming one of my favourite reads this year and I know I will have to read more of Winton’s work down the track.
I’ll finish this post with the same incredible sentence that I posted a few months ago when I mentioned this novel midway through reading it, a sentence which captures the feel of this book so well:
It’s easy for an old man to look back and see the obvious, how wasted youth and health and safety are on the young who spurn such things, to be dismayed by the risks you took, but as a youth you do sense that life renders you powerless by dragging you back to it, breath upon breath upon breath in an endless capitulation to biological routine, and that the human will to control is as much about asserting power over your own body as exercising it on others.
Sometimes the books we least expect to like can be the most pleasant surprises, and a reminder to keep an open mind towards all expressions of creativity!
Are there any books you have read that you thought you wouldn’t like but ended up loving? Why were you unsure, and why did you like them so much?