The Riders was an insanely ambitious book. You couldn't help feeling Tim Winton was trying to leap up a rung on the lit ladder with it. The prose was finely wrought, the conceit huge, the result... well, it was rather muddled. The themes were pure Winton - lost soul in quest for redemption, the insufficiency of married life, man in and against nature - but with bells on. The grand style seemed to be overegging the pudding, though, and the lack of resolution didn't build mystery but annoyed this reader.
But Dirt music is a tremendous return to form. Winton has returned to a more rough and ready colloquial Australian English - the Aussie was largely missing from Riders - and the book drips with West Australia. The tourist board should buy a job lot - he really makes you want to go, so ravishing does he make the place sound. The arse-end fishing town of White Point is instantly recognisable to anyone who's visited rural Oz, but the north, which gradually fills the book, overtaking the story, drowning it, is somewhere you've never been.
The usual broken characters (with a handy grab-bag of secrets, misfortunes and psychological glitches) jerk together in what you could take to be a romance. Me, I think of it as a Romance - the difference lying in the belief that the world overwhelms us, rather than the people in it.