"Anything you could play on a verandah. You know, without electricity. Dirt music."
I finished reading Tim Winton’s Dirt Music last month, now it has taken a month to blog about it. It took me a while to really get into the novel, I’m not certain if it was the text itself (at the outset Winton’s disregard for punctuation can be confusing) or the constant interruptions that are my life. Once I made it to around the fifty page mark though I just couldn’t put it down. Winton’s language and plot builds, almost like the build-up to the wet season, so subtly you don’t really notice it until on that last page, and after that final word, you can exhale, as if the breaking of the rains. I’ve been contemplating and stewing on the book ever since. Reflecting on the characters, the evocative descriptions of an animate landscape, the symbolism and metaphors. Slowly its’ goodness is sinking in, still being absorbed long after the cover was closed. A text that I will without doubt revisit in time.
Recently the children and I spent a couple of days at Ledge Point and I felt like I was walking around in Winton’s novel. White Point is the fictional township where the novel is set and whilst the coast line Winton describes certainly differs, the township itself feel like they’re one and the same. There were even flyers for some ‘dirt music’ at the local country club.
“Look, we need an ambulance on the jetty in half an hour.” (20)
The jetty at Lancelin could have been the model for that described by Winton at White Point, and freakishly there was an old ambulance parked not far from it on the day we were there.
“Logging on – what a laugh. They should have called it stepping off… Still, you had to admit that it was nice to be without a body for a while; there was an addictive thrill in being of no age, no gender, with no past.” (4)
This could have been me when I started this blog ‘virtually sally’ and yet as time passed on I’ve found in some ways I am a ‘truer’ self here on the interwebs than I am if you ran into me at the local shops. This idea interests me a lot, the selves that we are in physical life and online life. The question of what is “real” life, the bloody mess of fact, fiction, physicality and virtualness. It makes me feel delirious just contemplating it. I’ll save those pontifications for another time though, and just observe early on in the novel I found myself closely relating to Georgie and her habit of “stepping off”, sans the booze.
The novel’s central character Georgie Jutland is described in the blurb on the novel’s back cover as a “mess”, and whilst I wouldn’t necessarily describe myself just now in the same terms I certainly related to her. She is a woman, just turned forty* who finds herself living in the shadow of her former self. She is at a crossroads, a place where she can continue to live passively or can act to change her situation. “Her days have fallen into domestic tedium and social isolation”, a situation that is not alien to my own. Ideas about being rescued, finding redemption and destiny are all explored in the novel, themes that I find particularly interesting as I find myself hurtling towards a junction where I want to act. I’ve had my babies, I am starting to consider what the next phase of my life will hold for me. I don’t necessarily just want to passively plod along, like Georgie I’m attracted to the idea of making dramatic changes and yet I wonder if I have the courage within to take action.
“Is it because I’m self-obsessed and totally incurious that I don’t know a bloody thing about anybody, Beaver, or is it just that nobody tells me anything?” (286)
Again I identify with Georgie. So often I feel like I know nothing about the people around me. There is so much that I would like to know about them but then I feel uncomfortable asking questions of them. I feel like if I ask them questions I am invading their privacy. It does also occur to me that perhaps I’m too self-obsessed and this is why I don’t know all that I’d like, too introverted to connect with other people’s lives.
“Paddocks segued into pine plantations then market gardens and finally hobby farms whose flybitten, shaggy ponies marked the farthest outposts of suburbia.” (75) “They entered the miserable throughway of Joondalup. It was like a landscaped carpark with all the franchises that passed for civilisation.” (76)
A good description of Wanneroo Road and Joondalup too. Driving back from Ledge Point I could almost have been in the truck with Georgie and Lu, had I not been driving a mini-bus containing my parents merrily singing along to Dolly Parton and my four children chattering along. Winton’s words were certainly resonating with me as I drove, conscious of the familiar sights and Winton’s description. Joondalup, a town centre not far from where we live, has been described by my folks as a Lego town. So neat and tidy, so well planned, so manicured. It is odd really.
“But he persists in the mangroves despite the fear of crocs because the tree canopy offers shade and camouflage and his hunger grows more nagging.” (404)
The tree canopy of the mangroves took me back through time and space to a trip to Papua New Guinea over 15 years ago. A canoe ride through the mangroves near Ako Village was an eerie highlight. At the time I was naive to the fact that the waters were infested with saltwater Crocodiles. Good thing too I suppose or I would not have bathed at all in the week we were there.
“The plantation town of Kununurra was a weird, virescent swathe in the ochre landscape, a few moments of rigid geometry that fell away in seconds and afterwards seed imaginary.” (406)
An apt description of Kununurra, something of an oasis in the red dirt and termites nests of the far north. My own memories of Kununurra are of the local and thriving Chinese restaurant, the free beer coolers we received when paying our hotel bill and most memorable of all unpacking and re-packing all our worldly possessions at the NT/WA border. We’d packed our old house up using vegetable boxes which we weren’t allowed to take across the border. Funny to think that at that time we could move all our worldly possessions in fruit boxes and a Datsun Bluebird.
So I adored Dirt Music, and the more time passes the more I love it. The more it is sinking in. I remember reading Winton’s Cloudstreet when we first arrived in Perth and it quickly became one of my true favourites. There is something special about reading a novel set in a time and place you can so easily identify with.
* Not forty yet folks but at the beginning of the month I started my fortieth year.