Brian McFarlane reviews 'Dirt Music' by Tim Winton

Brian McFarlane reviews 'Dirt Music' by Tim Winton

Dirt Music

by Tim Winton

Picador, $45 hb, 461 pp, 0330363239

Talk about unlikely associations. My first response to the opening chapter of Tim Winton’s latest novel was how its sense of a life at a standstill, awaiting some new impulse, reminded me of Jane Austen’s Emma. Winton’s protagonist, Georgie Jutland, with a string of unsatisfactory relationships behind her and bored with her present bloke, Jim Buckridge, her useful life as a nurse now well in the past, sits in front of the computer screen, ‘gone in her seat, like a pensioner at the pokies’. In White Point, the Western Australian ‘personality junkyard’ where she has fetched up, she needs a stimulus (‘recently something in her had leaked away’) as urgently as Austen’s heroine. In both novels, it comes in the form of a new man. After this, it must be said, Dirt Music isn’t much like Emma and it certainly settles for a less conservative dénouement, but the underlying narrative starter has this echo.

Another inapt association. Georgie is forty and unanchored: for the life of me, I couldn’t get Helen Mirren out of my head as I read. Even when I read later that Georgie has a short black helmet-like haircut, it couldn’t displace the image of the tough, intelligent Mirren-type sexiness. (The opposite process, perhaps, from never being able to re-read Women in Love without seeing the film’s black-haired Oliver Reed as the Nordic god, Gerald.) However, the resonance isn’t unhelpful as the wayward Georgie gradually accretes a Mirrenish determination to shape events rather than just let them happen to her.

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Published in November 2001, no. 236
Brian McFarlane

Brian McFarlane

Brian McFarlane’s latest book is Four from the Forties: Arliss, Crabtree, Knowles and Huntington, Manchester: MUP, 2018. He has had three overlapping careers, as teacher, academic, and writer. He is the author or editor of over twenty books and hundreds of articles and reviews on film and literature and related matters. He co-edited The Oxford Companion to Australian Film and was compiler, editor and chief author of The Encyclopedia of British Film. His most recent books include: Twenty British Films: A guided tour and Double-Act: The remarkable lives and careers of Googie Withers and John McCallum. He is currently serving as Adjunct Professor at Swinburne University of Technology and as Adjunct Associate Professor at Monash University.

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