The Windy Season
The precis of Sam Carmody’s debut novel, The Windy Season, reads like a congeries of Australian Gothic tropes: we have a small town where not everything is as it seems, a missing brother whose disappearance brings to light long-hidden family secrets, and a toxic stew of masculinity, booze and drugs. But while taking equal measures of inspiration from the gritty realism of Christos Tsiolkas and the building menace of Wake in Fright, The Windy Season’s ambition is betrayed by its uneven execution.
Protagonist Paul’s brother, Elliot, is missing, having disappeared without a trace from the Western Australian fishing town of Stark. As his family splinters under the weight of their grief, he makes his way up to Stark to take his brother’s place on the crayfish boat run by his cousin Jake. At the same time, a mysterious bikie associate named Swiss traverses the Australian outback towards Western Australia with his gang’s president, receiving an education in violence along the way. In Stark, Paul begins to piece together what might have happened to Elliot – and to realise the danger he himself is in.
Despite this promising narrative set-up, The Windy Season moves at a glacial pace, mostly owing to the strange inertia that seems to vitiate Paul. Paul actually does very little, choosing instead to be buffeted by external forces: the troubled and erratic Jake, his domineering aunt Ruth, his charming flatmate and sole friend in town, Michael. Paul never actively investigates what happened to Elliot, and in fact barely seems to trouble himself to ask the most simple questions in a town that – we are told several times – has no secrets. Why, for instance, do the locals seem to despise Jake? The answer is freely volunteered by a minor character halfway through the book, without Paul’s prompting.
Paul’s shiftlessness robs what could be a page-turning suspense narrative of its energy, and when the big reveals about Elliot’s fate – and how it intersects with Swiss’s story – finally emerge, they are robbed of the significance they might have had. Carmody is on surer ground when dealing with the minutiae of Stark, whose otherworldly malice is finely rendered and whose cast of misfit occupants – emaciated meth addict Roo Dog, hardworking larrikin Jungle, and newly arrived cop Freda – are vividly drawn. Carmody is a promising writer and The Windy Season might prove a stepping stone towards fulfilling that promise. SZ
Allen & Unwin , 344pp, $29.99
This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Jul 23, 2016 as "Sam Carmody, The Windy Season". Subscribe here.