Book Review – Dirt Music by Tim Winton


I read this book back in October of 2002 and gave it a 7. However, I’m less tolerant these days and I immediately dropped two points off my starting 9 when I saw Tim was subjecting us to dialogue without quotes. I’ve been told that writers should avoid anything which tends to ‘flick the reader out of the story’ and make them realise they are reading a book. This happens when they have to stop and examine the text to ascertain if something is dialogue or not. I’ve become a grumpy old man when it comes to lazy punctuation.

There is absolutely no doubt that Tim Winton is a skillful wordsmith. His descriptive words and phrases are, in the main, unique and flavoursome, giving the reader a wonderful feel for place, circumstances and character experience – he puts us right there with the character in that setting. If I was to mark every description that impressed me the book would look like a festooned Christmas tree. His research of time and place seems entirely authentic, but I have no personal experience with which to verify that contention. The description of the deadly mishap in the ute very well written.

Tim has an ability to change tone and tempo on a dime. For example (Page 130) where Lu come back to shore to find his dog murdered. The scene changes from wonderful and laid back to dark and terrible with a sudden but seamless transition.

I found the scene (Page 78) where Georgie seduced Lu in the hotel room lacked understandable motivation. Okay, we learn later that she is a motherer, a lost kitten saver, but, unless I missed something, I didn’t find credibility in the scene.

Also, in terms of motivation, I didn’t get Lu’s northern ordeal. As well written as it was, of and by itself, I began to feel that it went on too long and that Tim was showing us how much he knew about the northern sections of WA at the expense of storytelling.    

The climax of the book was dramatic with considerable tension building up as the search progressed on the island. I understand a movie is in the works, so the plane crash will surely feature prominently. I’m going for a 6 but mainly for the sentence by sentence reading pleasure, rather than the story telling.

Steve Reilly