Dirt Music By Tim Winton (Picador, Pan Macmillan 2001; 465 pp; $46.00 hardcover)
Tim Winton has made an outstanding contribution to modern Australian literature, and his latest novel Dirt Music is a masterpiece in its own right.
The story of love is of loss, loss of love, divorce and remarriage, and a scattering of eccentrics. It is also a celebration of the West Australian landscape -an artistic interpretation by a wordsmith using a keyboard and not a paintbrush - which has helped shape our view onto the Indian Ocean.
The heroine, Georgie Jutland, is a 40 year old nurse who has marries a commercial fisherman, a widower with two young children. As is often the case with widowers Georgie knows that she cannot replace the mother of the children, and perhaps not even the first wife.
Set in a West Coast fishing village - a "personality junkyard" daytime is spent in domestic tedium and social isolation; night time is occupied with heavy drinking and cyber surfing. Georgie knows that she has lost her edge in life.
One morning she is gazing onto the beach after a bleary night ("it's nearly beer o'clock") , and she sees a new element springing into her life - in the shape of Lucifer Fox a poacher, a jinx artist, and a local outcast.
An alliance begins, and we travel with them all over Western Australia, right up to the isles on the north west tip of the state, each place being uniquely described and absorbed, reaching a climax that is as broad and varied as the landscape.
Author Tim Winton was born in Perth in 1960, and has written thirteen books, including novels, short stories, and children's stories. He began publishing in his teens, and won the 1981 Australian Vogel Prize, the Miles Franklin Award, and has been short listed for the Booker Prize. He now lives in West Australia with his wife and their three children.
Dirt Music has taken seven years to write, and the final rewrite was cut by 600 pages. As such Winton has written a journal of a voyage, and he freely admits that it has exhausted him. Perhaps this weight stems from the West Australian landscape as a spiritual serendipity, making him an islander
In Dirt Music Winton touches on the racism that is transparent in Australia. The 'red neck' nature of the local community is stark. There is presently a moral vacuum in the heart of our politics, which is reflected in Winton's novel.