Thursday, September 10, 2009

Why I still like the ending of Tim Winton's Dirt Music, no matter how inconclusive!

I have long considered Tim Winton's Dirt Music THE "great Australian novel", or at least one of the greatest Aussie novels ever.
Some readers may object to the inconclusiveness of the ending.
OK, what is happening at the end? Georgie has just found Luther Fox, and then it seems she has to administer mouth-to-mouth to revive him, or he may be lost...
Normally, such an ending would annoy me too, in most regular "love stories".
We do want to know whether it is a comedy ("happy ending"), or a tragedy.
Dirt Music, in my humble opinion, surpasses these usual literary characterisations.
Georgie, being the obsessive type she is, and desperately in search of a "meaning" to fill the void of her own life, hopes she has found it in Fox. Jim, equally obsessive and driven by will, jumps on to the bandwagon of her search, "for something to do". These are motivations which I feel sure many of us can identify with.
Luther Fox is perhaps equally obsessive in his own way, but is more obsessed with rather more transpersonal issues, of finding a "meaning" in the music (the "dirt music" of the title) welling up from the depths of his being, and indeed from the depths of the land itself, real "roots" and "grassroots" music. I feel he was in fact almost at the point of completely disappearing or blending into the landscape in a state of mystical oneness, which was perhaps the consummation he so devoutly wished. I feel that whichever way the ressuscitation eventuated, Luther at least would be "happy", either conventionally, with Georgie, or unconventionally, in death, without her. Georgie's quest might have to continue a little longer, at least if she failed to revive Fox, and she wouldn't necessarily have the affinity with "dirt music" to help her... Poor Georgie!
The point is that the vastness of the landscape (the Australian landscape, and the West Australian, in particular) completely dwarfs ALL petty human concerns! In a special sense, whether or not the wishes of the human protagonists are fulfilled, remains irrelevant. The real "love story" in this book is, I feel, Tim Winton's own love for the vastness of the landscape itself, which reduces all human characters and their necessarily petty concerns to mere dots or disappearing smudges upon that very landscape... In this, he does in fact give a new meaning to those mawkish lines of Dorothea Mackellar's, so often jingoistically or chauvinistically recited, "I love a sunburnt country, a land of sweeping plains..."
Whether or not humans and their concerns even continue to survive in this landscape is ultimately irrelevant, compared to the vast and rich landscape of fish, birds, quolls (yes, don't forget the quolls!) etc. etc., which so richly populate the book, that at times it reads like a wildlife or nature documentary! Even the indigenous people have seemingly forgotten how to live according to "the traditional ways" of closeness and oneness with the land. In "going native", Luther had almost begun to approximate their perhaps earlier experience.
It is a challenging book, I feel, and would be a challenge for most city-dwelling Australians, since our lives are normally lived between tram-stops and cappuccinos. But it does us good to escape the tiny limits of our own petty concerns and open our minds to the truly "bigger picture" of our own outback once in a while. I suggest that book clubbers could fruitfully dig around in this book, and explore their own reactions to it, and also find themselves confronted with the "bigger" questions, as well as the bigger picture, of life, the universe and their own place in it!

P.S. Recently, a brand-new copy of Charles Dickens' Great Expectations fell serendipitously into my hands, a real bonus "gift of the universe", as it were. It might also be a fruitful exercise, in a later blog post, to "compare and contrast" the lack of resolution between Pip and Estella in that, with our reactions to the lack of resolution between Luther and Georgie! Which, if any, is more satisfying, and why? I suspect, in my case, it may be the Winton version, but only because England is, after all, a lot tinier than Australia (how many maps of England CAN you fit inside a map of WA?), and therefore just does not have the "landscape" for the "bigger picture"! ;-))

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