If I understood the genesis of the term waxing lyrical (and wasn’t too lazy to google it) I would say I would be doing just that about The Others by Mark Brandi. Because I adored this book.
Brandi’s given us an amazing narrator in 11 year old Jacob and I do have a penchant for books written from a child’s point-of-view. It has to be done well though because their voice can very easily seem off. It can hard to capture innocence and naiveté of the young, when some – like Jacob – have good cause not to be.
by Mark Brandi
Published by Hachette Australia
Source: Hachette Australia
Genres: General Fiction, Literary Fiction
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.
Brandi’s 2016 novel Wimmera was well-received, though I enjoyed it less than others and felt it jumped about in time a bit too much and perhaps tried to be a bit too subtle (or more likely I was too daft). I didn’t receive his second book, The Rip for review but am very grateful I’ve had the chance to read The Others.
The book opens in the present in which we meet an adult Jacob. He’s been confronted with a reminder of his past and to overcome his demons his therapist suggests he read the journal he kept as a child.
Diary entries are a clever way to deliver a narrative because we’re wont to be more honest and seek meaning or insight when committing our thoughts to a page. And a child’s disordered thoughts mesh perfectly with the stream of consciousness writing that those-who-journal often experience.
It could break the famous ‘show don’t tell’ law authors are advised to obey, in order to ensure readers become engaged in the happenings, but there’s no threat of that at all. Jacob is a riveting story-teller. Brandi nails the tone and language. His writing is quite exquisite given he’s limited to the prose an isolated 11 year old would use.
I loved that Brandi gives Jacob a dictionary and encyclopedia and enjoyed the snippets of meanings and illustrations the boy uses when learning a new word, along with his confusion about the complexities of the english language.
And as for the story itself…. Adult readers will know there’s something off about Jacob’s life. About his father and his stories. Even Jacob, though devoted to his father, realises he’s not being entirely honest. He’s learned to manage his father’s behaviour however and it’s sad that a child has to do that. Though (I know) many do.
But I do what he asks me, even if I don’t like it. Same with watering the crop. I do these things mainly because I don’t want him to get the soft eyes. When the soft eyes come, he doesn’t talk much. Doesn’t talk and stays in bed for ages.
The soft eyes are worse than when he gets angry. They hang around like the fog. Like the fog on the hill in winter. That’s what it’s like. But when he gets angry, even if the whites of his eyes scare me, it passes pretty quick. It’s more like a storm coming over the hill. A storm in spring. Raining hard, then passing. Different from the fog. p 69
I didn’t see where this book was going and in some ways the actual reveal, or ‘turning point’ for Jacob didn’t matter much. It’s more that it came. Something happened that caused Jacob to think about leaving his relatively safe world – and everything he knew – behind. Despite the threat his father instilled in him of the Others.
I liked that Brandi offers a circular story arc here, so we come back to the present at the end, though I did feel a smidge of disappointment that the closure we’re offered isn’t as complete as I would have liked. Of course, having said that, it’s not the sort of story (or book) that should be wrapped up tidily in a bow.
I refuse to say this is a coming of age story, it’s more one of an awakening. A coming of awareness if you like. It’s exquisite and gentle though it’s often not, offering insight into the relationship and dependency between children and their parents; and the line between unconditional love and trust.
The Others by Mark Brandi was published in Australia by Hachette and is now available.
I received a copy of this book from the publisher for review purposes.