After deciding to make my way through Tim Winton’s back catalogue and having two of his books on my TBR pile I thought it was past time I actually picked one up. Dirt Music was my first choice and I was far from disappointed, in fact I was surprised at how much this story captivated me and how quickly I devoured it. Dirt Music follows the story of two central characters. The first is Georgie Jutland, former nurse, wild soul now living in a small fishing village of White Point with fishing royalty Jim Buckridge and his two children. Georgie is lost and drowning within herself when she strikes a forbidden acquaintance with Lu. Lu is a shamateur, a local illegal fisherman that flies under the radar without a permit, which is a dangerous thing in this town where fishing is serious business and the sea is the only law they abide by. Their fleeting encounter sets off a series of events that propels the story forward across the harsh west Australian landscape.
I have to say Dirt Music is now up there in my favourite Winton novels. I had forgotten how poetic his prose is, his words aren’t silky or flowery. His poetry is harsh, pragmatic and precise. It suits the landscape he depicts. Anyone who reads his novels can sense his affinity for the unpredictable and formidable ocean, the rugged and severe coastline, the unforgiving yet tranquil bushland of Australia. It is something I can identify with and probably a good reason why I constantly find myself entranced with his novels.
After reading quite a few reviews of Dirt Music I can definitely understand why others did not like the story or were unable to connect with it. The prose is unusual and can be confusing without quotation marks, so if you can’t abide a lack of punctuation then Winton’s work is probably not for you. Personally, I love that it gives the prose and ever flowing feel, much like unmetered poetry. Others were unable to believe in the relationship between Georgie and Lu, that their encounter was to brief to believe in the impact they had on each other. It is true, Winton does spend more time describing the surroundings, the inner thoughts of the characters so that their encounters may seem brief and superficial. I think that the backgrounds of both characters explain why such a fleeting experience had such lasting effects on both of them. Georgie was lost, unsure, stuck in a house with a man she didn’t love, a man who doesn’t love her either trying to play mother to two boys that missed theirs. She was dying for a deeper connection, something more and she found that in Lu. Lu was just as lost as she was, grieving his lost family, alone for too long and having abandoned his passion for music. They were both drawn to the need in each other and unable to forget that feeling.
The character were such a highlight of the book. As mentioned above, both Georgie and Lu were complex layered characters. Georgie was floating, lost, running from her past and Lu just felt too much. Trying to hide from his music that bound him to his family, trying to keep his feelings at bay. That is until Georgie wakes them in him, taking him on such a journey over the course of the novel. It was probably the most striking feature of the novel for me and I found his character fascinating. Jim was another great character, one you never fully understand but constantly strive to. That is the way of Winton though, he leave much to your imagination. Never fully answering your questions, letting you come to your own conclusions. An act that is completely maddening but keeps the mystery there, leaving you pondering all the possibilities.
Overall, I found Dirt Music to be an exemplary work of Australian fiction. In fact, I hadn’t realised just how many awards this book had won, or that it was shortlisted in the Man Booker Prize. Having read it now, I completely understand why. I was entranced by this book, completely drawn in to the lives of the characters and was sad that the pages had to end. Read this particularly if you have a love of the Australian landscape, the imagery Winton describes is something else. I give Dirt Music four fishing rods and can’t wait for my next foray into Winton’s work.