Twice shortlisted for the Booker, western Australian Winton has won the Miles Franklin three times already, for Shallows (1984), Cloudstreet (1992) and Dirt Music (2002). Breath, his ninth novel, is an exploration of a young man’s addiction to danger whether through surfing or sex. It was described by judges who selected it for this year’s shortlist as “a searing document about masculinity, about risk, and about young people’s desire to push the limits”. Winton, the judges said, “is at the height of his powers as a novelist, and this is his greatest love letter yet to the sea”.
If he were to win, he would draw level with four-time winner of the prize Thea Astley. But Winton will be facing stiff competition from a novel gaining plaudits across Australia, Christos Tsiolkas’s The Slap, which has already won the regional Commonwealth writers’ prize for best novel and is shortlisted for the Australian Literature Society’s gold medal. About the consequences that ensue when a man hits someone else’s fractious child at a barbecue, told from multiple perspectives, judges said it had “echoes of John Updike and Raymond Carver, if with a distinctly Greco-Aussie accent”.