I adore Tim Winton’s short stories and I think he is an incredibly gifted writer. I love his writing – it is so clean and yet so rich. In Dirt Music, I wasn’t disappointed in his writing. However, it took me a while to get into it, longer than I expected, and I think I persevered because I hold him in such high regard. But perhaps it wasn’t Winton but me and the way I found time to read it – a bit disjointed. When I found the space for a run in, I was hooked.
Dirt Music is a love story, but not in any way that I’ve ever encountered a love story before. It is gritty, at times bleak and often uncomfortable. Dirt Music tells the story of Georgie Jutland, a woman without roots or ambition who somehow ends up in White Point, falling into the company of a local fisherman, Jim Buckeridge. She moves in with him and cares for his children without really caring for him. She clings to the comfort of alcohol as the fog of her life swirls about her, until she comes across Luther Fox, an outcast and shamateur (poacher), in the dead of night. Fox is the sole survivor of an accident, which haunts and defines him. These two drifters meet, and become entranced and involved with each other.
Winton makes each of these three characters suffer, as each appear on the edge of madness at times, each with pasts to resolve. These are scarred characters, more than the merely ‘flawed’ that most books will keep you in the company of. This makes it uncomfortable reading, as we are pulled through tough themes – violence, abusive relationships, isolation, tedium, and ultimately survival.
Winton narrates the story across the Australian outback, and this bleak landscape parallels the play between the characters. It is a stark story, which leaves the reader wondering if this is love, or a love that they might want. It is an unlikely love, painful rather than beautiful. Dirt Music is part thriller, as the violent secrets of the past are revealed in both Fox and Buckeridge.
And the title? ‘Dirt Music’ was once Fox’s passion and livelihood – it is the gritty music that arises from the dust, it is the music that Fox abandons after the accident, and claims back near the end of the story. The ending is harrowing; there is no fairytale ending. Dirt Music is a wonderfully beguiling book.