So after I read The Turning, I said I wanted to read a novel by Tim Winton. I picked Dirt Music mainly because it was such a great title. It’s a story set in Western Australia, about an unlikely liason between two people who are both at the end of their rope in one way or another. Georgie is a woman who seems never to have found her place in life, in the world or even in her own family. She was a successful nurse, but has left nursing, is living with Jim whom she doesn’t love and who doesn’t love her, and seems to be descending into depression and alcoholism when she meets Luther.
Luther is a man who did once have a place in the world, living on his family home with his brother, his brother’s wife and their two children, playing “dirt music” in a family band. When Luther’s whole family is killed in a tragic accident, he is cut adrift and unable to re-start his life. Georgie and Luther drift together, but the fact that Georgie’s boyfriend Jim is a powerful man who has every reason to dislike Luther and has the power to destroy him, drives them apart.
Of course, there’s a lot more going on here than just a love story. The setting — a fishing community in Western Australia, and then various other locations as the characters journey north — is as important here as any of the characters. It’s one of those novels that really gave me a sense of the foreignness, strangeness and beauty of a faraway place. My favourite sections of the novel were the ones where Luther is living alone in the wilderness on a remote island; the prose painted a picture both of how gorgeous and how harsh that landscape was.
Of the the two main characters, I was inclined to find Georgie a bit of a whiner (“Pull yourself together, woman!!”) while I liked Luther better and sympathized with him more. His journey through grief is compelling and believable, and I completely felt what he was going through. I loved the passages in which he was forced to confront the memory of how flawed his lost loved ones really were, so that he is able to remember them rather than his idealized image of them. I also loved that fact that in those passages, after having been unable to play music since the tragedy, Luther unlocks and confronts those memories when he starts making music again.
I’m still unsure how I felt about the ending of this one, but I thought it was a strong and evocative novel with one of the most moving fictional portrayls of grief that I’ve read in a long time.