‘Anything you can play on a veranda, you know, without electricity, dirt music.’

Winton is so adept at descriptive prose a reader quickly understands that a major character in Dirt Music is the landscape, the sea and desert of Western Australia. If you love narratives of our ancient land, Australia, then this book is hard to ignore. But of course we wouldn’t expect anything else of Winton. He is a much awarded and lauded author, who is one of those few writers who can sail effortlessly from literary fiction straight into the minds of the mainstream reader.

In Dirt Music the main character is Georgie, a 40 year old woman who spends her alcohol fueled evenings trawling the internet. Disenchanted with her current lover, Jim Buckridge, a tragic widower and a master lobster catcher at ‘White Point’ she becomes involved with an illegal fisherman, a ‘shamateur’, Luthor Fox. Georgie’s complicity with Lu Fox leads to the unravelling of her own shammed life, and when their affair eventually becomes public, the ‘rednecks’ of ‘White Point’ take action. In response Lu escapes their wrath by heading west.

 Winton slowly unfurls the secrets which haunt his emotionally damaged characters. Georgie is still haunted by her past life as a nurse, Jim has lost his beloved wife and suffers from having a brute of a man as a father and Lu it seems will never recover from the deaths of his brother, sister-in-law, niece and nephew. Lu and Georgie parallel one another in many ways. Both have shocking experiences behind them that continue to haunt them. When Lu Fox escapes ‘White Point’ and heads west, his journey becomes both a pilgrimage towards healing as well as providing wonderful descriptions of the landscape. From the briny sea, to the rich soil of the ‘floodplain’ country, onwards through dirt and dust, Lu’s journey becomes an inner monologue providing insight into his past and the present.  Stylistically, Georgie’s point of view is all in third person, while Lu’s is in first. This makes Lu’s narrative sections quite dreamy and sometimes distorted, and is a perfect foil to Georgie’s less detailed narrative.

The love story between Lu and Georgie is an unusual one as most of it occurs in each other’s absence. It reminds me of the age of the Romantics, an ideal love, platonic and pure, one not damaged by real life, which of course theirs is. Winton’s use of Jim to bring our disparate lovers together is challenging in theory. Does the reader really believe that Jim’s overt need for forgiveness would be strong enough to drive him northwards in an attempt to find Lu Fox and reunite him with his old lover, Georgie? Jim’s obsession is the only element that doesn’t quite work for me, in what is quite simply, a marvellous book.