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Wednesday, 16 October, 2002, 15:07 GMT 16:07 UK
Dirt Music paints a bleak picture
Tim Winton
Tim Winton is from Perth, Australia

Georgie Jutland used to "frighten the mascara off people". Now she is 40, living a downtrodden existence in a "relentlessly ugly town" and seeking solace in vodka and surfing the net.

In a bid to inject some excitement into her life, Georgie - girlfriend of the "uncrowned prince" of the local fishing community - seduces oddball poacher Lu Fox.

Georgie's men are opposites: Jim is revered, while Lu, the sole survivor of a family wiped out by untimely deaths, is cursed.

Dirt Music, Tim Winton's seventh novel, explores the interplay between these three against the breathtaking and unforgiving landscape of Western Australia.

Dirt Music cover
The force of nature pervades the novel
Winton's characterisation is incisive. Jim has "crow's feet like knife cuts". His "rumbly voice and physical presence" alter the atmosphere of a room.

The supporting cast (including an ex-biker with a mail order bride and a drug-crazed surfer with a wooden leg) warrant a book of their own.

They live in the brutal commuity of White Point (where wealthy wives "hide their shiners beneath duty free make-up") but Winton intersperses raw and vernacular language with lyrical passages.

The fishermen holler "Orright" at each other and neck home brew, but the sky is "felty" and silhouetted boats "snuffle up to their moorings".

Winton personifies this contrast in Lu. On the face of it, he is a redneck, but he quotes Blake, reads Keats and cries easily.

Throughout the novel, it is the indomitable force of nature that pervades.

Slow burner

Scree slopes are "the colour of dry blood", the ground "purrs" against Lu's skull and the final scene is played out on a "monolithic island".

The images are powerful, but they play second fiddle to the superb characterisation.

Dirt Music starts slowly, with Georgie, Jim, Lu and the other White Pointers as separate entities.

It gathers pace as their stories become inextricably linked. The main characters are united by "flickering jabs of memory" and a sense of loss.

As the jigsaw puzzle joins together, Dirt Music becomes a veritable page-turner.

The fate of Georgie, Jim and Lu matters more than anything and Winton keeps you guessing to the final page.

Dirt Music is published by Picador.

Coverage of the 2002 Booker Prize from BBC News Online and BBCi Arts


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16 Oct 02 | Entertainment
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