Posted by: Lisa Hill | August 1, 2017

The Windy Season, by Sam Carmody

This novel by debut author Sam Carmody took a little while to engage me, but then I was hooked.

The Windy Season was shortlisted for the Vogel in 2014, losing out to Christine Piper’s stunning novel After Darkness which was also partly set in coastal WA.  (See my review).  But the shortlisted book caught the eye of Allen & Unwin (who publish the winning novel every year) and I can see why.  Carmody is a talented writer, with a gift for dialogue.  According to the blurb, he researched his novel by hitching rides with commercial crayfishing boats and watching how Australian men interact with each other, and this is why the novel feels so authentic.

Set in a fictional fishing village aptly called Stark, The Windy Season traces Paul’s coming-of-age as he leaves his Perth home to find out what has become of his older brother Elliot.  Elliot has been missing for some months, and it’s not like him not to keep in touch.  But the police, who resolve thousands of missing persons cases every year, aren’t too worried, and so Paul decides to see if he can solve the mystery himself.

Paul’s parents are middle-class professionals and he seems to have had a rather sheltered life, so taking Elliot’s place as a deckhand on a crayfishing boat is a rude awakening for him.  His Aunt Ruth is a bit rough and ready, and his cousin Jake is a bit strange, thrashing his boat through dangerous waters as if he has a death-wish for himself and his crew.  Paul gets horribly seasick (more often than we want to hear about, really) and he’s a bit taken aback by the pub crowd who are mostly thuggish louts.  The way this male-dominated crowd speaks to and about women is, unfortunately, all too authentic, and so is what happens to girls who unwisely venture into this world:

Is it always like this? Paul asked.

Shivani says every new Year’s is big.  People just come.  I do not understand.  Always lots of people, she says.  And always some sh– happens.

Like what?

Oh God, Michael said, covering his eyes with his hands.  Like, last year, he said, his smile gone.  Shivani said that last year there was this one girl.  She came up from the city.  Prettiest thing in the whole place. All those boys losing the plot, watching her dancing and stuff.  She goes off in the dunes with some backpacker.  American, I think.  Surfer.  Anyway, of course the boys followed them up there. […] They scared the surfer dude off.  Roo Dog was swinging a star picket around.

What about the girl?

Jesus, Michael muttered.  Those boys were walking up and down that dune like ants, so I’ve heard.

You’re not serious?  Why aren’t they in prison?

I do not think the girl reported it.  And the American just got the hell out, apparently.  Went east.  (p.165)

(You can see the skill with dialogue: the too-careful grammar of Michael who is escaping his autocratic father in Germany, mixed with his growing knowledge of Australianisms).

Alongside the third person narrative about Paul and his naïve efforts to unravel the undercurrents in the town, there is an anonymous first person narrative.  This device sustains the tension between Paul’s confused imaginings about his brother: the reader doesn’t know if Elliot is a victim or a criminal, and Elliot’s junkie girlfriend Tess isn’t saying anything to clarify matters.  All we know to start with is that this narrator and a ‘President’ are travelling to the west along the back roads, but slowly it is revealed that they belong to an outlaw Bikie gang that deals in drugs.   And we learn that he has guilty dreams:

But of course I dream too.  Every night in the desert.  And here at the farmhouse.  And I’ve thought some bit about what they all mean.  And I’ve come to think it’s just the way of the brain to discharge the things that don’t come out of a person’s mouth.  That maybe all the silences got to get spoken somehow.  People groaning or screaming out in their sleep.  Save it all up during the day so it comes out like an awful song in the darkness.

There is a lot that don’t get said by fellas. A different kind of detail they register but don’t mention.  They’ll take on facts but save the information on how it makes them feel.  A fella will see somebody get hit by a truck and the fella will talk about the sound the body made and the colour of the truck and the speed they guess the truck was going but if any of it made him think about god or his own beating heart you wouldn’t know. (p.228)

The sense of incipient danger comes in multiple forms: there are many ways that Elliot could have vanished without a trace.  Through malice or misadventure, his body could be lost at sea or anywhere along the vast coastline.  Even the Bikie has a healthy respect for it:

And that big bloody Indian Ocean, the President says.  Coral heads that could tear the heart out of boats.  Swells that step up out of the southern ocean like they’ve come straight from a hell.  Hardest thing to control that line between land and sea, the President says.  Impossible.  Ten thousand kilometres of deadly coast.  Most of it unpatrolled, of course.  Because you can police the internet.  Spy on every word written.  Lock down airports and have a camera on every street.  But the sea?  No one controls it.  No one owns it.  Always been that way and always will.  (p. 241)

Then there’s the sharks, Elliot’s favourite topic of conversation to scare his little brother.  Bodies taken by sharks are often never found.  They have a swimming speed as fast as a car on the road so there’s no outswimming it, with an impact velocity that could break a person clean in two from below so that the last sight you would ever see would be the great fish swimming off with your lower half.  If it only gouged your leg or foot or thigh, it would wait till you bled out, disappearing to a depth at the edge of your vision, like a spider in the shadowed corner of a web.

And no matter how hard you look you will never see it coming, Elliot would say.  There is always something you cannot see.

Another menace lurking beneath the sea is a vast super trawler’s fishing net, cast off when a cyclone threatened and masking itself as a shadow to entrap unwary surfers. One of the toughest blokes in Stark comes undone when someone he loves is tangled in its grasp.

And on land there are people who provoke Aunt Ruth to warn Paul that he’s been seen poking around and talking to the local copper, heightening the reader’s suspicion that Elliot’s got himself mixed up in something really bad.

The novel paints a harsh picture of Australian life: crude, vicious and brutish.  Yet there are tender moments too, and there are insights about why men like Paul’s father can seem remote and uncaring.  I also liked the message on the tattoo of Paul’s girlfriend, Kasia:

For a boy who never tells very much about himself, you are very curious.  She ran her finger along the words.  It says: Im yesh l’adam menora, eyno pohed m’hosheh.

What does it mean?

It is Hebrew.  It says that if you carry your own lantern you will endure the dark.  It was something my grandmother used to tell me, like a saying.  (p.201)

There are dark moments in The Windy Season but there is also humour, and surprising human decency.  I’m going to recommend this book to my optometrist who’s always looking for beaut books for his (all male) book group.

Author: Sam Carmody
Title: The Windy Season
Publisher: Allen & Unwin, 2016
ISBN: 9781760111564
Review copy courtesy of Allen & Unwin

Available from Fishpond: The Windy Season

 


Responses

  1. I loved this book, too. I thought it was a very accomplished debut and was surprised not to see it on the awards lists … so far! One always lives in hope! :)

  2. All male book group? Good for him- I wonder how different their reading list is from all female group.

    • *chuckle* Maybe one difference is that they seem to actually discuss the book….

      • Ah yes… Fair call!

  3. I’m not a big fan of blokey books though I listen to them often enough but I have a 30ish rello who grew up in a fishing village north of Perth so I’ll give it to him and see what he thinks.

    • This one reminded me of a book I read a while ago, *smacks forehead* I cannot remember its name, which was about blokes working in a vineyard, I think, and the narrator observing and interpreting their inarticulate conversations. The book was very highly praised, but I got fed up with it because at the end of the day there’s only so much an author can do with inarticulate conversation. But this one is much better than that. About third of the way in, when you start thinking you know what’s what, the author tweaks things and you begin to realise that our belief that all disappearances can be solved is a bit childish, given the social and natural environment we live in…

  4. […] The Windy Season by Sam Carmody, see my review, […]


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