Tim Winton’s Dirt Music came attached to a drab looking cover and a reduced price from the remaindered bookshop, so I wasn’t too optimistic. I chose it partly because of its Australian setting – there’s a long term plan to head in that direction – and partly because of the recommendation: Booker Short List normally means that some sort of intellectual stimulation will be provided, that it’s passed a fitness for reading test.
Do you want a plot synopsis? Georgie, restless adventurer and nurse, is in a long term relationship with Jim, and it’s going nowhere. Two step children don’t help. Intrigued by the mysterious appearances of a poacher along the shoreline, Georgie embarks on a brief but “meaningful” relationship with this renegade. Jim, a bully, and a pre-eminent citizen in a town that makes its living from legal fishing soon finds out, and the story explores the unwinding of these relationships. There are some surprises on the way.
We learn most about Georgie and the poacher, as the narrative alternates between these two points of view: they are interesting characters, and very flawed. The story is brilliant in its evocation of the Australian landscape – I say that, never having been within 10 thousand miles of the place, but the author gives us a lot to go on. Both these characters are outsiders in their different ways, whilst Jim is what we might imagine as the typical Ozzie male, so the novel offers a criticism of this type. The Fosters advert below approaches this in a different way.
At times Dirt Music becomes a road book, as the writer takes us further and further into the wilderness, but the Australian setting makes this something new.
I really enjoyed reading about the relationship between Georgie and the poacher, and the description of this fictional town and its inhabitants is interesting in its exploration of power, jealousy and the weight of the past. The road trip began well but significant parts of the second half of the book focus on one character’s attempt to survive in the wilderness, and that was less compelling.