Book review: Eleven Seasons by Paul D. Carter

For outsiders, the attraction of Aussie Rules football is hard to understand. In WA it hovered at the edge of my consciousness in winter, and I chose a team as an easy way of identifying my allegiances to the north or the south of the river.

In Melbourne, football culture assaults me with the presence of loud fans in the city after games. Wide-eyed children on the tram, bedecked in team colours with a parent by their side, bring to mind memories of my mother’s stories, of going to the football as a teenager with a much-loved older cousin who has long since passed away.

Bruce Dawe’s poem ‘Life Cycle’ gave me something of an insight as a youngster into what it meant to grow up with football in Melbourne. Now, Paul D. Carter’s Eleven Seasons, which won the The Australian/Vogel’s Literary Award for 2012, has added a stirring contribution to the way I understand the culture of AFL, revealing both its problems and its power from the inside.

The main character of Eleven Seasons is Jason, a passionate Hawthorn supporter. He plays the game very well indeed and longs to join the under-thirteens team – if only his mother, Christine, would let him. Jason’s dad is not on the scene, and the relationship between Jason and his mother, with football as a disruptive third partner, is at the heart of the novel.

Eleven Seasons captures beautifully the seductive power of the sport and its worth for this young man. He is disengaged from school; his mother, working double shifts as a nurse, is never around; he soon finds friends who drink and smoke and tag their names on walls near the train line. Football is the one thing that makes Jason feel worthy, and without it, he would easily be adrift.

The novel is in two parts, and in the first we are fully in the mind of an incommunicative teenager. It drags a little, but the tension soon builds towards the shocking climax at the end of part one. This climax changes Jason’s relationship with football forever, and when we return to him after a few lost years in the middle, he is a confused young man trying to make sense of his life.

I saw Carter speak at Debut Mondays at the Wheeler Centre a few weeks ago, and his reading of an excerpt from the novel spurred me to buy it. He spoke of beginning this novel ten years ago and wanting to write a great, all-encompassing Australian masterpiece. He said that he soon realised he didn’t have the talent to do this, and spent the following years teaching himself to write.

He described Eleven Seasons is a very modest novel compared to what he’d set out to write in his early twenties. Perhaps, but the result is a work to be proud of. It is a Melbourne novel, not because it relies on the city to form a backbone to the story, but because it captures the voice and heart of a young boy mad on football, and makes this seem reasonable and meaningful to an outsider.

The novel’s resolution is a little disappointing because of Christine’s absence from it, in spite of her central role in the book. Nonetheless, Jason’s voice provides a unique window into the perspective of a teenage boy, and Eleven Seasons is a moving story.

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5 thoughts on “Book review: Eleven Seasons by Paul D. Carter

  1. Murray Smith says:

    As a longtime Carlton Blues supporter, for me a little pain is involved in being reminded of footy after another loss, albeit honorable, on Friday night. But I have bought “Eleven Seasons” and have enjoyed what I’ve read thus far. I used to tease a work colleague (now deceased) about the Hawthorn club’s colors, suggesting that the only reason the Hawks surprisingly won the 2008 premiership was their yuk colors. It was, after all, the UNESCO-sanctioned Year of Sanitation — and the colors of poo and pee were triumphant!

    And word is that some Hawk honcho recently died, and he gets to the Pearly Gates somehow, still wearing his brown-and-gold-colored scarf, and St Peter ushers him through with the tip that a game’s being played right then and there on the Pearly Paddock. Around he trots to see No.23, in the brown and gold, well into the thick of it. He exclaims: “Jesus, I didn’t know Buddy had died!” Angel alongside tells him: “That’s not Buddy, that’s God — he thinks he’s Buddy!”

    A journo (now on sports at The Age) once advised women newsroom colleagues, none too keen on footy, that any “Renaissance woman” Melburnian just had to get her head around the footy culture, so ’tis pleasing to see equineocean — so splendidly diverse in its range from all I’ve seen of it so far — give it recognition. Women these days have many positive links with Australian football, more so than codes such as soccer and rugby, certainly. I’m sure John Harms and footyalmanac.com.au would welcome more contributions from women’s perspectives, too.

    • equineocean says:

      Thanks for your response to my review and for the entertaining details about the Hawks! When I did follow football for a few years in the early to mid-2000s, it was in support of the Dockers, so I was well used to barracking for the losing side, as is the case for you with Carlton at the moment. There is a certain pride involved in supporting the underdog, don’t you think?

      I agree that there are many women with important roles in the AFL, but ultimately it is a game that revolves around men, and it is a pity that women’s sport rarely attracts an equivalent level of attention and financial support. I do think it’s important to have some understanding of the intense role that AFL plays in many people’s lives, particularly for young boys like Jason in Eleven Seasons. It is such a huge part of Australian culture, particularly in Melbourne.

      I’m sure that, as an AFL supporter, your reaction to Eleven Seasons will be very different from mine. I’d be curious to hear your response to the novel as a whole once you’ve completed it…

  2. Shannon McKeogh says:

    Thanks for this review, its very informative! I am interested in reading this book. I like that how Carter has mixed AFL into a ‘literary’ field. It is hard to write about sport in a fictional way, I think.

    • equineocean says:

      I feel slightly guilty because I focused so much on the AFL aspect of this book in my review, when it is definitely NOT just about football. But I guess the footy element was not something I’d encountered before so my attention was really drawn to it. Let me know what you think of the book once you’ve read it!

      • Shannon McKeogh says:

        The only other sport themed book I can think of is “touch me” by james maloney (young adult) which is really a romance story. I skimmed over the touch footy bits.

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