The good: The setting is captured perfectly, as is Paul’s coming of age.
The not-so-good: I might be a bit scared next time I’m up that way…
Why I chose it: Shortlisted for the Readings Prize for New Australian Fiction.
Publisher: Allen & Unwin
Setting: Midwest of Western Australia
Rating: 8.5 out of 10
I know the area where The Windy Season is set pretty well. It’s a beautiful part of Western Australia, but when it’s hot and the wind is still it’s a pretty looking Hell. Sam Carmody has taken a patch of this coastline and created the small crayfishing town of Stark, which underneath the surface embodies that hell. It’s not a nice place to stay for too long (and that pub…best to stay way away from) as the main character Paul finds out.
Paul is 17 years old, awkward in more ways than one. He works at a supermarket and doesn’t really seem to have many friends or a sense of purpose. But when his brother Elliot disappears, his dad seems not to notice while his mother is distraught. But nobody seems to do anything. So Paul decides to go up to Stark, where Elliot was last seen and hope something will turn up. Nobody in his family is overly supportive of the idea, but nobody really seems to care either. Paul gets a job on his cousin’s crayfishing boat, pulling pots with German backpacker Michael. It doesn’t start too well. His cousin Jake is aloof, yet fiercely angry and Paul doesn’t have the stomach for the sea. In Stark, he’s more of a loner than he ever was. But Paul is good at searching and snooping. He realises there isn’t something quite right going on, but nor does he have the ability to take on the tough, rough types that populate Stark. At the same time, this is a coming of age story for Paul as he becomes friends with Michael, gets a girlfriend and tries to earn the respect of his fellow fishermen.
This isn’t easy, when you’re an awkward character like Paul. He sits on the periphery, watching but not making eye contact. He embarrasses himself and avoids taking direction. But underneath that teenage awkwardness, there’s a young man with determination to find his brother. Paul is the least likely fisherman you will ever see, but he has determination and persistence. As the novel goes on, he comes out of his shell more and more until he’s ready to take on Stark. There is some great comedic relief in Michael, who says what he thinks and is ultimately responsible for loosening Paul up. Michael is blunter in his assessment of Stark – the drugs, drinking and fighting, reminding Paul that Stark isn’t a destination, it’s a rest stop only. This is echoed by Kasia, Paul’s first great love (in his head anyway). Both characters try to push Paul along rather than letting him waste his life doing something he doesn’t particular enjoy, while holding on to his loss.
One of the greatest characters in The Windy Season is the setting itself. Sam Carmody captures the harsh bright light, winds that can change direction in an instant and the scrub perfectly. I almost felt like I was up round Geraldton in the summer –harsh and hot but a stark kind of beautiful. His descriptions of the landscape and of Paul reminded me a lot of Tim Winton’s writing. He captured the awkwardness of the teenage years with the unforgiving landscape so well to create an almost otherworldly sense of Stark. There also a definite Aussie-ness to the novel; no shying away from swearing, slang, drinking or sex. It’s all there on the page to read.
Overall, The Windy Season is an eerie coming of age novel that will get under your skin like the sand of Stark. Well worth a read to explore the seedy underbelly of a tiny town.