The Others by Mark Brandi

Reviewed by Rod McLary

The title of this book – The Others – immediately suggests a ‘them versus us’ scenario and that is exactly what it is.  But, in this book, the ‘us’ is an eleven-year-old boy and his father and the ‘them’ while never clearly identified are always present – a little like shadows at the edge of your vision never quite coming into focus.  The Others creates an increasingly claustrophobic world in which the shadows, hovering on the edges of the story at its beginning, gradually close in as the story unfolds.

Bookending the major part of the book are two sections spoken by someone other than the boy.  The first sentence of the first section is the intriguing ‘I don’t think of you much anymore’ [1]; and the last sentence of the second section very clearly tells the reader that the story is far from over.

Between these two sections is the rather chilling story in which the boy is a pawn to his father’s skewed and unhealthy view of the world.

On his eleventh birthday, the boy is given a diary by his father ‘to help [his] writing, and to help keep [his] thoughts in order’ [5].   The boy’s entries in his diary – not dated and not every day – form the story and is more than sufficient to set out the rather frightening world in which the boy lives.

Told in the first person through the diary entries, the story cleverly outlines the boy’s emerging understanding of the world and its darkness – and the role his father has played in creating this world.  His father says to him: ‘” Sometimes, you have to do the most terrible things.  Sometimes, you just have to”.  That’s what he said.’ [231].  There are allusions to some of these terrible things as the story progresses; and there is one thing in particular which precipitates the conclusion.

The boy and his father – neither protagonist is named and it is only near the end of the story that the boy’s name is mentioned – live on an isolated farm somewhere in Tasmania.  The period in which the action takes place is not identified but seems to predate mobile phones.  The boy’s mother, although frequently spoken about by the boy, died some time ago but the father’s explanations for her death are confused and changeable.  The boy can barely remember her other than being similar in appearance to the actress Elizabeth Taylor whose photograph he found in an old Australian Women’s Weekly.

Wracked by drought, the farm is barely able to sustain the pair.  The boy is intelligent but naïve and limited in his knowledge of the world by the enforced social isolation.  He is home-schooled – rather ineffectually by his father – and instead seeks out knowledge from a dictionary and an encyclopaedia; and he has keen insight and understands more about his father than his father suspects.

For most of the story, the boy is confined to the farm and its immediate surrounds but, as in all the best coming-of-age stories, the boy later finds within him a depth of courage and determination sufficient to break free and save himself and another from further harm.

The author has authentically captured the voice of this eleven-year-old boy; and engenders in the reader’s mind, the inner struggle of an intelligent young boy to make sense of a world in which he plays only a minor role.  The author describes the boy’s gradual loss of trust in his father through the boy’s referring to the dictionary and encyclopaedia and measuring what he finds there against what his father has told him.  With his innate sensitivity, the boy intuits that, when asked difficult questions, his father ‘didn’t want to talk about it, about the smoke.  Same as when I ask him about the commune.  Or the town.  Or how things were before.  Or the others’ [76].

The boy also knows that, when he discovers the truth about something, he has to ‘keep it a secret.  From the wind, from the house.  And from him.’ [239]

Like Wimmera before it, The Others has at its heart the voice of a child who narrates the story with authenticity and clarity.  Mark Brandi has the ability and skill to tell a chilling story which engages the reader from beginning to end.

Mark Brandi’s first novel Wimmera won the British Crime Writers’ Association Debut Dagger and was named as the Best Debut at the 2018 Australian Indie Book Awards.  His second Rip was published in 2019.  Both Wimmera and The Rip have been reviewed in these pages.

His shorter work has appeared in The Guardian, The Age, The Big Issue and in other journals in Australia and overseas.

The Others

[2021]

by Mark Brandi

Hachette

ISBN 978 073364 114 5

$32.99; 373pp

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