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The 2000s: Dirt Music


Tim Winton (Picador: 2001)

You know you’ve read a brilliant book when you get near to the end and you have to stop because you can’t bear to leave the characters, or for the story to finish. And yet you itch to return to it because you must know how it ends … Those novels only come around for me rarely, but Dirt Music was one of the books I’ve felt most deeply. I read it recently, but it was published back in 2001, and I’m sure many of you will already know it. If not, there are so many reasons to search it out.

Dirt Music begins in the small, tight-knit coastal community of White Point, in western Australia, not far from Perth, where ‘the wind might not be your friend but it was sure as hell your constant neighbour’. Georgie Jutland has been a nurse, and has had many tough experiences in her career and relationships. She’s in White Point because she’s now with Jim Buckridge, a lynchpin of the fishing community. They share their lives, but not their hearts, and for Georgie, her heart is a mess.

When she becomes entangled with Luther Fox, her life gets much richer, but even tougher, and presents many complex dilemmas. Lu carries darkness inside. His whole life has been a ‘project of forgetting’, but now he’s with Georgie, forgetting becomes impossible. This mature love story seemed so real. It’s about grief, regret, about how and when we speak, and what happens when we don’t. It’s about how love and self-knowledge can save us from ourselves and how we can exist as imperfect beings in a far from perfect world.

It is a book where nothing is black and white, literally as well as metaphorically. Everything is coloured by the red dust of the wilds of western Australia and by the sharp hues of the hot, unforgiving, beautiful, dangerous landscapes of the north west. Whenever I was forced to leave Dirt Music for a while, I would see it waiting, feeling that as soon as I opened it, those wide landscapes would spring out, and I’d feel the hot dust in the wind, hear the waves smashing at the shores.

Tim Winton’s writing is muscular but also poetic, his characters deep and complex, and his stories keep you reading. An alluring combination. I will definitely search out more of his books. I’ve only read one other so far – the wonderful Eyrie. I can’t wait to read the rest … although I shall devour them slowly, as they’re such intense pleasures.

You can find the other 'Books from the Decades' in this edition of BookTalk.


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