The Fifth Season by Philip Salom

‘The four seasons only exist because of each other.’

Jack moves to an Airbnb in a small Australian coastal town called Blue Bay.  He reorganises the Airbnb to his own requirements.  The owner, Sarah, when she visits, hopes that he has taken a photograph so that he can return everything to the way it was.  Jack’s intention is, over a period of three months, to work on a book about what he thinks of as ‘found bodies’.  The bodies may be found, but their identities are lost.  Anonymous people found dead: the Somerton Man, the Gippsland Man, the Isdal Woman, bodies found on beaches, in cars, in hotel rooms.  The anonymity of these people, the story behind their lives and deaths occupies the public mind as well as the much more personal grief of those who love and miss them.

‘The Fifth Season might be Time, which holds the seasons together.’

Jack meets a number of people in Blue Bay, and befriends Sarah, the owner of the Airbnb.  Sarah’s  sister Alice is missing.  Sarah paints murals of her sister, and of other missing people, across the country hoping that their likenesses will enable them to be found.

But not everyone wants to be found.  Sometimes, going missing is a choice.  Some stories are complicated and difficult to understand. And Jack himself is grappling with his own continuing existence.

This is a novel which invites the reader to enter a community, to reflect on individual stories of life, to think about who goes missing and why, and about the impact on those left behind.  Is it ever possible to return to the way things were, before people go missing, before furniture is rearranged? So many questions.

This is the first of Mr Salom’s novels I have read.  I will add his others to my reading list.

‘And in time, what begins as memory becomes history.’

Jennifer Cameron-Smith