Book Review: The Others by Mark Brandi

About the Book:

On his eleventh birthday, Jacob’s father gives him a diary. To write about things that happen. About what he and his father do on their farm. About the sheep, the crop, the fox and the dam. But Jacob knows some things should not be written down. Some things should not be remembered.

The only things he knows for sure are what his father has taught him. Sheltered, protected, isolated. But who is his father protecting him from? And how far will his father go to keep the world at bay?

All too soon, Jacob will learn that, sometimes, people do the most terrible things.

From the bestselling author of WIMMERA and THE RIP comes an unforgettable novel that explores the darkness in our world with the light only a child can find.

Published by Hachette Australia
Released 2021

My Thoughts:

“I went left, and the trail soon disappeared. I could’ve turned around, headed back down the hill, but I went on. I should’ve gone back, gone back while I had the chance. Gone back before I saw, because some things are better not to see.”

This was such an impressive and impactful novel with an overwhelming sense of dread sustained throughout, the atmosphere just seeping right off the page. The story is entirely told from the perspective of Jacob, eleven years old, and through the medium of a journal that he has been given by his father to practice his writing. I am often hesitant about child narrators. I have read some excellent novels narrated with a child’s voice and others that have left me a little hesitant about the narrative choice. But here, in The Others, Jacob’s voice is convincingly both a child of eleven years as well as that of a child who has mastered the very fine art of managing his behaviour to best coexist with a parent who has a mental illness.

This story got under my skin, and I found it hard to put down. I was desperately worried for Jacob, there was so much that was just not right with his father and the way he behaved, the things he told Jacob about the outside world, and the restrictions he put into place that kept Jacob from exploring and seeing beyond the immediate perimeter of their farm. And the way they were living! No electricity, no plumbing, no clean water at all. I had been reading this novel in the late afternoon and then I put it down to make dinner. It was as I was rummaging around in the freezer to see what frozen vegetables I had that I stopped and looked, really looked, at the meal I was preparing for my two teenage sons and myself. We had seasoned lamb chops, a cheese potato bake and roasted brussels sprouts with lemon pepper already laid out and I was looking to see what else I could add for colour and variety. In that moment, all I could think was that Jacob had just eaten a small hunk of rancid stringy wild goat and likely not a vegetable for who knows how long and what sort of effect that was having on his health. This boy just became entirely real to me for the duration of the novel and there aren’t very many authors that can master that, pierce my consciousness and haunt me with their characters and their lives.

I think this novel really shows just how lost a person can become when they fall into the traps of their own mind. Jacob’s father committed some terrible crimes, against others as well as his own son. He was seriously unwell, dangerously so, and it still makes my heart beat more rapidly thinking about Jacob, so isolated and completely at the mercy of his father. And yet, there was love there too. He had taught Jacob to read, to count, to think and question. He had also begun to train Jacob for survival; it was as though on some level he knew he could not keep up the life they were living. The Others would come, eventually, they just weren’t The Others that he had led Jacob to believe them to be. The element of dread that was sustained throughout the novel gave way to real fear at times and in some ways this novel dipped in and out of being a thriller of sorts blended with a more edgy contemporary literary style that I find uniquely Australian.

What I really liked most about this novel is the way in which Brandi examined the effects of Jacob’s father’s mental illness upon Jacob himself, not only as a child, but right through into adulthood. When you have a parent who is mentally unwell, particularly one who is unable to or unwilling to be treated, there is a burden placed upon their children that honestly marks them for life. This burden is further extended when crimes are committed, atrocities that become the stuff of urban legends. Add into this the complication of memories merging with facts and creating a chaotic blend of love and hate, protectiveness and shame. Brandi captured this perfectly. He really is one of Australia’s foremost literary talents. The Others is a hauntingly brilliant novel, unlike anything I’ve read before or am likely to read again. Highly recommended.

“You’ve been with me, inside me, all this time.”

☕☕☕☕☕

Thanks to the publisher for the review copy.

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