Back at my desk after most of August away, it's time to choose one title from the holiday reads. Tim Winton’s Dirt Music has taken a while to work its way up my ‘waiting to be read’ pile. It was published in 2001 and short-listed for the Booker Prize that same year. It was worth the wait.
It would be simplistic to say Dirt Music is a love story, though that is at the heart of a book that is about much more. It starts in a small fishing community, White Point, that is a law unto itself even though only a few hours drive from the city of Perth, Western Australia.
Georgina [Georgie] Jutland is bored, becalmed in her relationship with Jim Buckridge – lord of the White Point fishing grounds. She ‘treats’ her insomnia with slugs of vodka as she trawls the Internet. She feels safe in this online ‘world without consequences.’ It’s during one of these pre-dawn moments that she notices a poacher, Luther Fox, down on the beach, launching his boat into Jim’s fiercely guarded waters.
It turns out that Luther is from a family of local musicians who have a dark connection to the Buckridge family. When Luther and Georgie meet, life begins to unravel. Georgie’s world is soon riddled with consequences.
It starts as quite a slow burn, though it never drags. Winton had me hooked from the start. The short chapters shift between Georgie’s and Luther’s point of view. As Georgie and Luther become more entangled, Luther is forced to go on the run. The pace of the book picks up and is a page-turner right to the white-knuckle-ride of an ending.
Winton’s prose is lean. Not a word is wasted. He conjures place with economy, selecting just the right, specific, concrete detail or vivid sense impression – from the dunes of White Point, to the swimming pools of the affluent Perth suburbs and on up the Western coast along parched desert roads to the crocodile-infested islands off Kimberley.
This is a love-song to the landscape of Australia, a travelogue, an adventure story, a thriller and a love story. Winton’s clean, direct writing and spare storytelling make this contemporary fiction at its best. I’m glad I finally got round to reading it.