Dirt Music – playing in my head, again…

I’ve discovered that great books are worth a second read in one lifetime. I recently revisited Tim Winton’s novel, Dirt Music, and it’s still a magnificent, compelling read. Besides the accolades on the title below, it won quite a few other awards too.


Dirt Music is a tale of raw psychological depth, about being held back by the violent chains of the past, of a life-inertia born of grief and regret—where the rescuer and the rescued are not clearly signposted (I hope it’s not a spoiler to say that’s the happy part).

Descriptions of the novel are more numerous than Dirt Music covers in this post.

Dirt music 4

Apart from my bolded additions, Penguin Books describe the (love) story thus:

‘Georgie Jutland is a mess. At forty, with her career in ruins, she finds herself stranded in White Point (a ‘personality junkyard’) with a fisherman (with a dirty secret) she doesn’t love and two kids whose dead mother she can never replace. Leached of all confidence, she spends her days in isolation tedium and her nights in a blur of vodka self-recrimination. One morning, in the boozy pre-dawn gloom, she sees a shadow drifting up the beach below – a loner called Luther Fox (haunted by his past), with danger in his wake.’

There are many twists and turns and vivid settings, and you don’t dare skim-read in case you miss the author’s lyrical prose. Tim Winton elucidates things many people don’t talk about, reminding us that we’re not alone. I enjoy the way he walks among us with a universal voice (no matter what country you’re from)—which drops us right alongside his characters. Even if you don’t understand all of Winton’s characters you’ll care, and want to know what happens to them.

My imagination provided me with different settings ten years on from my first reading, a possible cause for concern, but I’m sticking to the theory that it was just a different film version running through the projector in my head. I knew the ending—but couldn’t remember exact details, yet Winton had me on tender-hooks ALL over again.

Here are some of my favourite quotes that won’t spoil the story. –

  • Georgie looked at the martyred jut of his hip bones.
  • “The hot Vegemite breath of a child.
  • “The girls had a slutty self-possession that attracted men and boys like food.
  • When a character is way out at sea, swimming in rough, choppy seas – “The water is all bellies and hips like a packed dance floor.”
  • “The sky was a sea, blue as a coma.”
  • The stars roll by on their wheels.”
  • “Tonight every flurry beneath the rock feels like the breeze of her passing.

Years later, I’m drawn to the vulnerability of the male characters, and am more sympathetic to their poignant loneliness. Winton’s calibrated unfolding of Luther Fox and Big Jim Buckridge, even other minor male characters, shows great sensitivity and highlights a vulnerability, a sense of them being trapped in their own shells. Heath Ledger was expected to play the role of Luther Fox in the movie – he would have been a perfect choice.

Dirt music 5

Below are a few humble quotes from Winton on winning the Miles Franklin Literary Award – from a Sydney Morning Herald interview.

Tim Winton

Tim Winton

“You get a little bit of affirmation [from literary awards], which is nice, but you can’t take it too seriously because if you win it doesn’t mean necessarily that yours is the best book. If you lose it doesn’t mean yours isn’t the best book,” Winton says.

“I’ve been doing it long enough to know that it’s a bit of a crapshoot, a bit of a lottery and you can’t take it too seriously. Otherwise you’ll give yourself a broken heart, you know. Or you’ll start writing with a view to cracking the prizes.”


I enjoy escapism, so Dirt Music is my favourite of Winton’s books. Although his other novels are also evocative journeys, the emotionally compelling and ultimately uplifting story of Dirt Music puts it on my short-list of favourite novels.

Any suggestions for other inspiring writers of succinct prose? I’d love to read them.

Penguin Books Australia

Tim Winton’s Big Issues – smh.com.au

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20 Responses to Dirt Music – playing in my head, again…

  1. “The hot vegemite breath of a child”… brilliant. Why can’t I think of things like that. I am currently reading “Eyrie” which he missed out on winning the MF for. He certainly draws an interesting character.

    • I started that… There had better be an explanation for the wet carpet!!! Great descriptions though.
      Off to work now Pinky, this evening I’m going to check out what cheeky business you’ve been up to. 🙂

  2. suzjones says:

    I find it difficult to write prose however out of all the examples you listed of his descriptive words, ‘the hot vegemite breath of a child’ is the one that struck me the most as I know exactly what that feels likes and I could visualise it and smell it all at the same time.

  3. Lee-Anne says:

    I haven’t read ‘Dirt Music’ and really should but I’m not a big Winton fan (feel a bit unAustralian admitting that!). I did like and teach a lesser known novel, ‘That Eye the Sky’ a few years ago.

    Winton is a tour de force with sensory imagery! 🙂

  4. Sounds like a great book, Susan. I’ll have to give it a try.

  5. Debbish says:

    Oh, you’ve made me want to re-read it cos I can’t remember much about it. I love Tim Winton’s writing but am conscious that I really don’t appreciate it enough. I’m a skimmer you see and find my eyes roaming over text to get to the next bit of action…. so his beautiful words and phrases are often lost on me. #oops

    • I know what you mean. Sometimes just the word ‘sunset’ will start me skimming.
      But I’m reading with my ‘writer’ thinking-cap on more nowadays, and Winton is a delight in Dirt Music. Also, the complexity and vulnerability of the male character, Luther Fox, is more endearing now I’m older. Am I going soft?? 🙂

  6. kathymarris says:

    I haven’t read any Tim Winton novels but after reading your review I really must expand my horizons. I love that you have listed some of your favourite quotes out of the book.

  7. Perhaps I really am getting sentimental as I get older, Kathy, but I’m only interested in happy endings unless it’s awesomely clever, like The Book Thief. 🙂

  8. Whew! Your review, Susan, was so enticing, I popped it onto my library list straight away. I’m chomping at the bit now. Can’t wait to read it! Thanks for the terrific suggestion.
    Currently, I’m just finishing The Signature of all Things. Another finely crafted story, without a doubt.

  9. livelytwist says:

    You make me want to read it. I like his quotes about literary awards. Sensible too.

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