It was with some trepidation that I picked up a Christmas present copy of Dirt Music. I
have been waiting in vain for years for Tim Winton to bring out a book to rival
Cloudstreet which is in my list of top ten books of all time. I have read almost all his
books in the hope of finding that same spark but so far it has eluded me (and him) it
Dirt Music is the closest Tim Winton has come to writing another masterpiece. The story
is set in classic Tim Winton country, a fictitious fishing town on the coast of WA north of
Perth. He brings the place and its people so amazingly to life that you would swear you
had stopped off there to fuel up last time you drove to Geraldton.
The language of this book is pure poetry. Rather than ink on paper there is sound and
colour and taste and smell on the pages. You can immerse yourself in the sea of this
story and emerge with the words running off your skin or jump up and down with your
head to one side until they run out of your ears.
The main character in the book is Georgie who has spent her life running away from her
conventional family and a conventional place in society. She has washed up in this small
tough fishing town with Jim, a large tough fisherman. She is on the verge of running
away once more when she meets up with the reclusive Luther Fox, a misfit ex musician
who lives on the outskirts of the town.
All the characters seem stuck in their circumstances and unable to change so they make
choices which will ultimately force change. Fox, who is the sole survivor of a car crash
which kills his entire family, has taken up fishing illegally in order to make a living. In this
town, this is an occupation which could cost him his life if he gets caught. Georgie,
when she begins her affair with Fox is also risking everything. Jim has a reputation for
being very tough, in a place where you have to be tough to survive and there is an
undercurrent of violence running through their relationship.
The inevitable change does happen. Fox barely survives the sabotage of his boat and
decides to hitchhike north to try to find his way back to music which was his life up until
the car crash. Georgie realises she loves him and decides to follow him. Jim confesses
that his reputation is undeserved and for reasons of his own wants to redeem himself so
he helps her to find him.
It is at this point that Tim clearly got bored. Either he needed to go out fishing so
abruptly finished the story, much like my ten year old does when he wants to finish his
homework to watch The Simpsons, or he got so tangled in the threads of the story that
he wasn’t sure how to extricate himself. Either way the end is a huge disappointment
and to me made the whole book a waste of time.
While neat endings may not be true to life, this is not real life, it is a story and as such
the characters need to grow and change and somehow be affected by the happenings
in the story to make it worth telling. In Dirt Music, instead of finding himself, Fox goes
mad in the wilderness, Georgie is caught up once again in the role of saviour which she
has been trying to escape, and Jim reacts in a completely unlikely manner in trying to
deliver Georgie to her lover instead of just allowing her to go.
My verdict – Beautiful writing but utimately irritating. So near and yet so far Tim. Still, I
will remain ever hopeful that the next book will be the one.