“The boat heaved around, turned seawards… the swell lines broadened. The ocean grew big and dark and seemed to move in slow motion. Paul looked up at the grey ridges of water, felt his breath go at the sight of each one…”
– Sam Carmody, The Windy Season
A young fisherman is missing from the crayfish boats in the West Australian town of Stark. There’s no trace at all of Elliot, there hasn’t been for some weeks and Paul, his younger brother, is the only one who seems to be active in the search. Taking Elliot’s place on the boat skippered by their troubled cousin, Paul soon learns how many opportunities there are to get lost in those many thousands of kilometres of lonely coastline.
Fierce, evocative and memorable, this is an Australian story set within an often wild and unforgiving sea, where mysterious influences are brought to bear on the inhospitable town and its residents.
There are so many words to describe this book – ominous, menacing, shadowy, and Australian just to name a few. Sam Carmody’s debut novel, The Windy Season, was shortlisted for the 2014 Vogel’s Literary Award, an award for unpublished manuscripts. This coming of age tale is reminiscent of another well-known Western Australian author and whilst I found parts of the book quite frustrating to read, this is a great story. I love books that challenge the way I think, especially with regards to how I want to review them. Reviewing is such subjective thing; I am always honest with what I write – I won’t say I love a book when I don’t – yet I don’t want to put a reader off reading a particular book just because I had an issue with it or didn’t like it! That doesn’t mean someone else won’t love it… perhaps I overestimate the influence of my opinion!
When Paul’s brother Elliot goes missing, he decides to follow his brother’s last footsteps in the hope of finding answers to the many questions surrounding his disappearance. Paul makes his way to Stark, a small (fictional) town on the West Australian coast. He takes over Elliot’s place on his cousin’s crayfish boat and spends the time in between traversing the wild seas and sleeping with nosing around Stark for clues. Stark is an unwelcoming place, with a cast of misfits: drug addicts, alcoholics, runaways, back packers and those who feel like they owe something to the town. Everyone appears to be unhappy, especially with the newcomer sticking his nose where it doesn’t belong. Many of the men from the other boats are hardened by circumstance and at times quite frightening. They are protective of their secrets and lies and Paul gets on the wrong side of many of them. In alternating parts of the story, the reader is also introduced to a small group of bikies – Swiss, the President and his goons – as they flee a drug bust in Sydney and make their way across the Australian desert. Eventually the two story lines collide and the dark truth of Stark is revealed.
There is a lot to like about this book. Carmody keeps the plot tight and has a really natural command of the language he uses. It is evocative without being overly descriptive, colloquial (ocker) without the potential to alienate foreign readers, and quite unforgiving in its fierceness, wildness and brutality. Carmody’s depiction of a small town ravaged by the unrelenting elements and substance abuse makes for a pretty bleak picture. The main character Paul is a fairly naïve kid, living in the shadow of his big brother. Paul appears to base all his actions and thoughts by what he thinks his big brother would say or do. He paints Elliot as a quiet and unusual young man who is often lost inside his own head. Paul goes to Stark searching for answers however he finds out more than just what happened to Elliot. Carmody stays true to the ‘coming-of-age’ tropes and allows Paul to define himself over time. He lusts after backpacker Kasia, listens to the philosophical mutterings of Michael, the German deckhand on his cousin’s boat, and learns more about his family than he knew before.
There were elements of this book that made me really uncomfortable however that comes down to my personal experiences and the themes in the book. I also really disliked Carmody’s aversion to quotation marks around speech. I find it really frustrating when I have to check who’s talking because it isn’t always clear! I found myself removed from the story so many times; it was hard to find a reading rhythm! These are just personal quirks though! Overall, The Windy Season is an excellent book with a distinctive Australian feel!
AUTHOR: Sam Carmody
PUBLISHER: Allen and Unwin
PUB DATE: August 2016
Thank you to Allen and Unwin for sending me a reading copy in exchange for an honest review!