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4.2 out of 5 stars67
4.2 out of 5 stars
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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.
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on 15 August 2003
Tim Winton's books are not light and easy. His characters are the walking wounded, scarred marred and often barely surviving. He besets them with harsh tragedies, violent accidents, abandonment. Sometimes their situations are so dire that you might want to put the book aside and go into the fresh air just to know that life isn't as bleak and cruel as he paints it. When you return to the narrative, wary and battle weary the chinks of light begin to appear.
Dirt Music reduced me to tears - Fox the sole survivor of a brutal family accident, an outcast of a harsh unforgiving Australian community finds love and redemption of a sort through Georgie, a woman who is as adrift as he. The novel is surprisingly suspenseful, so I won't write any more of the actual events, but God is it good! Tim Winton stands with Janette Turner Hospital as a major talent who has sprung from the arid ground of Australia.
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on 3 July 2002
The beauty in this novel lies in the character definition and wonderful, at times dense prose which IS reason enough to read a book (despite some reviewers insistence on an unnecessarily complicated plot). I think the purpose of the book was to convey the personal odyssey of the central characters and link this to the landscape and lifestyle of Western Australia - a feat which Winton attains succesfully. Not a classic book in the mould of Wintons unsurpassable 'Cloudstreet' but a more than worthy read
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 16 September 2009
Georgie Jutland is becalmed, like a boat without a sail, in a small, coastal fishing town in the southern Australian temperate zone. She's living with Jim Buckridge, a wild-man in his youth, who is now widowed, wealthy and worn down by resentment and guilt. Georgie has all she needs materially, but the reason she's latched onto Jim is to escape her own, less than happy family, where she seems forced by her sisters' conventionality to act the eternal renegade. Then she meets by accident a poacher - Luther Fox - a man who scrapes a living from illegal filching of the fishing grounds and diving for abalone. Buckridge and Fox have a long-standing feud and Georgie teases at the ugly back-story of their relationship, without making much headway.

Then circumstances force Fox to flee the town and the rest of the book concerns his headlong journey into the coastal hinterland of northern Australia, and Georgie's eventual search for him.

A recurring theme is the dirt music of the title, a mixture of blues, rock and folk-protest, dark and thrumming, like a pulse beat in the blood. This was the music Fox and his clan used to play, before the horrific accident that wiped most of them, children included, out of the world that hated them.

Winton writes here in what might be described as Australian demotic, secret thoughts half-strangled in clenched throats - a shock after the searing literary prose of his Booker-nominated novel The Riders. His range as a writer is powerful and impressive. For Winton in yet another guise, read Cloudstreet, an epic novel spanning half a century of Australian family life.

In Dirt Music, the natural world is something to be felt in the diaphragm, something that runs through your consciousness with murderous beauty, a landscape offering inhuman dimensions - Greek tragedy in the Antipodes.

This is an absorbing and unflinching novel, not for those who like things sure and simple, but I found deeply, movingly humane with a gripping plot and beautiful, hard-wrought prose that shreds your feelings and keeps you thinking.
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on 16 May 2014
Read this book in advance of the R4 book club recording with the author. It's driven by an incredibly strong sense of place - one of the most extreme I've read - and the three main characters who push the plot along between them.It's worth reading for the descriptions of the WA coastline alone plus the Ozzy terminology of billies and swag etc - very colourful.
The three characters are all very damaged by lack of love, loss and alcohol - but what is the novel about? Some say it's Georgie's love for Lu but I think it's just as much about redemption - Jim Buckridge is not a good man but tries to do the right thing even if it is against his nature. You do wonder at the nastiness behind the idyllic setting of White Point - natural beauty does not seem to have rubbed off on its inhabitants. In the end the most sympathetic characters are the minor ones encountered along the journey - Menzies and Axel in the bush and Horrie and Bess in their decrepit van.
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on 23 November 2003
I am not an avid reader, nor prone to writing reviews, but this book is something special.
What makes it for me is the time and effort taken to embed the characters and the plot into the western Australian environment. In essence it is a very simple story, but the magic is in the telling; a stark story told with an eloquent richness.
I found it a real pleasure to find characters explicitly shaped by, and articulated through, the intensity of the landscape around them. It reminds me of Steinbeck in part, and conjures up expansive visual images.
I stayed up till the early hours to finish this book, and - if I have a criticism - it would be that ending comes together a little too conveniently. A minor grumble though, the journey the book takes you on is quite exceptional.
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on 2 June 2008
What makes this book special is that it paints such beautiful pictures of Western Australia. It's a long and sumptuous read, and I had to put the book down, often, just to enjoy the images. Winton has a rare gift: within a few short chapters I felt I knew exactly how it would be to live in White Point. ('The southerly wind caused the windows to shudder. The house felt like a plane powering up at the end of a runway. Or maybe that was wishful thinking.')

The humour is very Australian, and all the better for that. But there's a lot of local vernacular, especially of the fishing industry, and I would have appreciated a glossary (at times, it was like reading Jabberwocky). The dialogue, too - brilliant though it is - can confuse, especially as it isn't flagged up by quotation marks, and the speaker is rarely identified. But the writing is so good that these feel like minor quibbles. However, the book does have one major flaw, and that's the plot. The two main characters spend only 30 or so pages in each other's company, which for me rendered the subsequent "will they get back together again?" storyline a little uninvolving. It didn't really make me feel very much. And the ending is frankly daft: disappointingly soap-like, for such a mature and original writer. So I'd say it's a book to read mainly for the beauty of the language, savouring every glorious description - and don't expect too much of the plot.
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on 31 December 2005
This book is fantastic. Its beautifully written yet raw and rugged as the landscape it paints. I really admire Winton as a writer as he has proved to be consistently readable but writes with passion and a knowledge of the country where the stories are set. The characters are carefully crafted and it is one of those books that transports you to another world. I wasn't entirely sure if i'd like it as I thought that the synopsis sounded readable but not particularly engaging. Yet I was left almost crying out wanting there to be some resolve in the end!! Its a really really great book and I wish i'd read it sooner.
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on 11 October 2014
I was recommended this by a cousin on my most recent visit to Oz. I've never got out west but Tim Winton's powerful description of the Australian landscape is truly impressive - he captures superbly the epic quality of the vast coastline, the extraordinary scale of the land and the far horizons my mother still misses after so many years in the UK. The characters in the novel are not immediately sympathetic; drifters, deadbeats, the sad, lonely, addicted and crushed. From such unlikely material he creats a powerful narrative that becomes compelling. It is worth sticking with the novel through the rather shapeless middle. My only criticisms are that the character Jim Buckridge lacks depth and it is hard to see what is driving him to seek to recover Luther Fox from his northern exile as a part of some sort of penitential act to redress largely unspecified past wrongs. I also find it unlikely that an autodidact such as Luther would ever travel so far without at least one good book! That aside, this is a very good novel and well worth persevering with through some of the thickets in the rather dense middle sections.
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on 12 October 2008
Simply brilliant because brilliant in its simplicity. Literally un-put-downable. Australian to the core: everything likeable and contemptible about the place: the humour, the aggression, that peculiarly Australian mix of the two - aggressive humour, that which shows more insight into human nature than any formal psychology textbook could ever hope to get close to. I'll pick up another Winton book because of this book. Why hasn't it been made into a film, for chissake??
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