Earlier this week, I was talking to a reading group about DRY SEASON, and one of the comments was that there’s a lot of violence in the novel. Off hand, I can only think of three or four violent moments in the book, but two of them are particularly unpleasant, so I guess they stick in the mind. My agent tells me it’s probaby because I write violence so well that those moments are so memorable.
Violence, of course, is dramatic – and what do we expect from a novel if not a bit of drama? The threat of violence is also dramatic – possibly more so – but if it’s going to be there, it’s important for it to be relevent to the plot, and in DRY SEASON it IS relevent. It would be impossible to tell such a story in such a place without it. It would be like writing a crime novel without there ever being a crime.
In DRY SEASON, I’ve tried to show the very ugly, and very real side of violence, rather than stylising it or making it ‘sexy’, but the flip-side is that one of my strongest memories of those people, despite their propensity for violence, was actually their good nature. And this is one of the things that most intrigues me about some of the people I met in Mato Grosso. They could be fun, friendly, charming and pleasant, but also have a side-line in murdering people for money. They had an inclination towards violence without ever seeming (to me) to be threatening or dangerous. Of course, not everyone was like that, but perhaps that’s my point; it was impossible to tell. The violent were not leering caricatures and they were not the odd-ball ‘quiet ones’, they were just ordinary, everyday people. People who laughed and smiled and told a joke. Our gardener, according to local legend, had killed seventeen men. Workers who respected my father for making sure they were paid on time, thanked him by offering to kill people for him. Many of the men carried guns and knives – usually for hunting or for work, but when they fell out with each other, they sometimes used them. Even now I find it difficult to understand that although they were capable of bad things, they never seemed to be bad people. They weren’t violent because it gave them pleasure – it was always for money, or if they felt wronged in some way (although, drinking someone else’s bottle of rum usually resulted in a show of arms, so the reason didn’t always have to be a major one).
It was just their way of life. And, hopefully, DRY SEASON reflects that.