Review: Eleven Seasons by Paul D Carter

Title: Eleven Seasons

Author: Paul D Carter

Published: Allen & Unwin April 2012

Synopsis: Some guys are good at school and telling jokes or they have the latest stuff. Others are cricketers and basketball players: they can do things with the ball that make their classmates talk about them when they’re not around. His thing is football. He becomes the centre of whichever team he plays for: he becomes the advantage. MELBOURNE, 1985. Jason Dalton sits on his bed and counts his football cards, dreaming of the day he too is immortalised in the public eye. He’s young and gifted, a natural player who can do anything with the ball in his hand. If only everything else in his life was as obvious to him as playing. GOLD COAST, 1991. The bottom has fallen out of Jason’s life; he’s now a high-school dropout, tired and wasted on the Gold Coast, with an explosive family secret still ringing in his ears. He needs to get his life back. But first he needs to find out who he is. Read an Excerpt

Status: Read on May 24, 2012 — I own a copy {Courtesy Allen & Unwin}

My Thoughts:

The Australian/Vogel’s Literary Award is awarded for an unpublished manuscript by a writer under the age of thirty-five. The winner receives up to $20,000 in prize money and is published by Allen & Unwin. This years winner, Paul D Carter, is a high school teacher who admits it took him almost 9 years to write Eleven Seasons.

Eleven Seasons is essentially a coming of age story, Jason Dalton is thirteen years old in 1985 when the book opens, and since this book is set in Melbourne, it is VFL (now known as the AFL), that is his obsession. Jason lives with his mother, a hardworking nurse who is largely absent from his life, in a tiny shabby flat finding solace in music, television and his beloved football team, Hawthorn. As he navigates the trials of adolescence – friendships, girls, drugs and alcohol, Jason dreams of becoming a professional football player and nurtures his talent for the sport with single minded dedication. His mother’s lack of support cuts deeply though and on the day of his biggest success, his mother reveals a shocking secret that blows his world apart.
The Australian male obsession with sports, football of one type or another in particular, is well known and Carter draws heavily on this in Eleven Seasons. This is not only a book about the love of the game, even if it seems like it at times, but also a means for Carter to explore masculinity and male identity. Football seems to offer Jason the things he lacks – male role models, a sense of belonging and the potential of success. When that dissolves, Jason is left floundering, and must piece together an identity from his shattered hopes. Carter’s characterisation of Jason is crafted with surprising subtlety. It’s not easy to balance a masculine swagger with male vulnerabilities but the author does so and Jason feels familiar and authentic.
I like how casually Carter portrayed Jason’s relationships with his mates, he captures the uniqueness of the male bond which seems to rely more heavily on external shared factors and proximity than female relationships do. Arnie is a quietly heroic character, a mentor to Jason both on and off the field. I love that Arnie welcomes Jason on his return, as if Jason hadn’t simply disappeared for a few years without a word.
I’m not terribly keen on the few female characters in Eleven Seasons, they tend to be either victims or emotionally negligent, or both. Jason’s mother in particular is an odd character and her relationship with Jason is complex. I felt more pity than sympathy for her though and didn’t think her likeable.

I have to admit I didn’t find Eleven Seasons a compelling read, not being a football fan I was more than a little dismissive, but on reflection I discovered that Jason had gotten under my skin. This is a uniquely Australian novel of surprising depth and a deserving winner of the Vogel.

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7 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Michelle @ B&L (@mic_loves_lace)
    May 26, 2012 @ 09:02:54

    Such a thoughtful and well written review, perhaps I dismissed the book too quickly. Sounds like an interesting read.

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  2. Margaret Lynette Sharp
    May 26, 2012 @ 14:56:10

    I’m not into football either, but your point about Jason getting under your skin speaks well of the book’s impact.

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  3. Michael @ Literary Exploration
    May 26, 2012 @ 15:09:00

    Thanks for you review, I’ve been interested in reading this book, might have to go pick it up now

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  4. The Australian Bookshelf
    May 26, 2012 @ 16:22:03

    I’m more a soccer gal myself, but the depth of the character and the impression left on you as a reader does intrigue me, Shelleyrae.

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  5. Danielle
    May 29, 2012 @ 01:20:37

    Yes! I have this one waiting for me at the library – can’t wait to read it 🙂
    Great review, as always!

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