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He sings. He's sung.
on 24 September 2006
This is a stunning novel in many unexpected ways, and for a newspaper such as the Mail on Sunday to say that it is "a book about the possibility and power of love" hardly even skims the surface of its beauty and its complexity.
With precious little knowledge of Australian literature, I confess to having approached it warily, and mainly on the recommendation of a trustworthy friend, although also on the strength of its having been shortlisted for the Booker Prize [in 2002]. Also - and this seems to happen more and more often these days - the blurb on the back of the paperback edition is slightly misleading: it introduces us to the two main characters, Georgie Jutland, "stranded with a fisherman she doesn't love", and Luther Fox. "Outcast". And "so begins an unlikely alliance".
But this is not particularly accurate, given that, for much of the novel, after an initial idyllic but thwarted episode, Georgie and Luther find themselves many hundreds of miles apart. And Tim Winton's novel slowly but inexorably turns into a fascinating thriller, as disturbing elements from the past slowly emerge, concerning the tragic history of Fox's family, and the role played in that tragedy by Jim Buckridge, Georgie's doltish, swaggering and somewhat sadistic partner.
From the fishing community of White Point in Western Australia, the reader travels northwards with Fox into an increasingly hostile and wild landscape against which he has to pit his wits constantly in order to survive. It is a journey into an Australian heart of darkness, and Fox, despite the music in his soul, is sometime hard pressed to continue making sense of what he sees as "a life writ in mud".
I think a couple of previous reviewers have maybe been slightly over-critical of the way the novel ends: slightly contrived as it is, it is far from being clichéd, and certainly not melodramatic.
And though I know one is not supposed to separate the style from the substance, a special mention for Tim Winton's highly original writing. The daring combinations of words, whether it's "a stiff coffee", "runty melons", "generic furniture", "a snarl of vines", "red dripping tomatoes" [the list is endless] come off, every single time. "Dirt Music" is a book suffused with poetry and music of the most intoxicating variety. And will have me reading more Tim Winton very soon.