Sam Carmody’s debut novel is incredibly, almost painfully Australian, and an excellent book that pulled me down into the quiet fury of its current.
The setting here is wonderfully realised, its harshness and stark (no pun intended) beauty moulding the damaged, scraped-together characters that persist in it. The scenes on the cray boat are particularly evocative, and just as raw and nauseating in their own way as the prickle of latent violence in the local pub.
It took me a few chapters to get into the rhythm of Paul’s character. At first he seems flat and a little empty, wafting about without much purpose or emotion. But this is part of his character arc, and he quietly grows as the novel progresses. His silences and awkwardness, at first simply irritating, become the symptom of a broader exploration of masculinity in Aussie culture. Carmody is never didactic or heavy-handed with this, and it always comes across as genuine and understated.
The book has the faint marbling of a thriller, but where it really works, and where the prose shines the brightest, is with the character interactions and relationships. Even incidental characters feel real; there’s sense of grit and sweat here that’s so tactile you almost recoil from the prose. Carmody is deft at creating tension, terror, awkwardness and delicacy, and he weaves the characters’ emotional complexity into their physical interactions with an excellent rhythm and contrast, creating a kind of universal vernacular for humanity. This is especially effective with Paul and Kasia’s relationship, which I found one of the most moving aspects of the book. There are so many small moments for the reader to relate to, moments where thought stretches deep and our (or the characters’) words or actions contradict, or fail to encapsulate, the complexity of what’s going on beneath the surface.
Some of the dialogue felt a little clunky in its formality and might have benefited from more contractions, and the earlier first person interludes could have had some of their eloquence cut back, if only because it didn’t seem to gel so much with the character. I’m not sure how I feel about these interludes, which seem a little listless and tacked on at times, their presence seeming only to serve a particular purpose. At the same time I wonder if the book might have worked better if these were much more fleshed out, but then the focus would have been too broad perhaps, and the book’s tone entirely different. What I do like about it is that kind of messiness, the lack of a neat narrative which is more evocative of real life than the careful plotting of fiction. Which isn’t to say that this book hasn’t been painstakingly crafted – it undeniably has, and Carmody’s attention to detail is a beautiful thing. The messiness comes from the characters and situations, the lack of closure that so often frustrates us about reality.
Overall, though, The Windy Season is a strong debut novel. This is a book about damage and silence, and Carmody portrays these things with a truth you can almost taste.