I’d seen quite a bit of hype around Wimmera, the debut novel by Melbourne writer, Mark Brandi whose work has been published in journals, magazines and newspapers in Australia and overseas. In fact, Brandi was awarded the 2016 UK Crime Writers’ Association Dagger for this debut.
by Mark Brandi
Published by Hachette Australia
on June 27th 2017
Source: Hachette Australia
Genres: Literary Fiction
ISBN: 0733638457, 9780733638459
In the long, hot summer of 1989, Ben and Fab are best friends.
Growing up in a small country town, they spend their days playing cricket, yabbying in local dams, wanting a pair of Nike Air Maxes and not talking about how Fab's dad hits him or how the sudden death of Ben's next-door neighbour unsettled him. Almost teenagers, they already know some things are better left unsaid.
Then a newcomer arrived in the Wimmera. Fab reckoned he was a secret agent and he and Ben staked him out. Up close, the man's shoulders were wide and the veins in his arms stuck out, blue and green. His hands were enormous, red and knotty. He looked strong. Maybe even stronger than Fab's dad. Neither realised the shadow this man would cast over both their lives.
Twenty years later, Fab is still stuck in town, going nowhere but hoping for somewhere better. Then a body is found in the river, and Fab can't ignore the past any more.
I enjoyed this book but wanted to like it more than I did. It is quintessentially Australian and brought back A LOT of memories though I’m older (and was at Uni in 1989) than both Ben and Fab. References to TV shows like The Wonder Years and The A Team (the original obvs), cricketer Dean Jones, The Aussie Post (and its Ettamogah Pub cartoon) along Monkey (Magic) and Pigsy made me smile.
Brandi deals with a difficult topic in this book but does so with a very light touch. In fact, it may be a little too subtle. I know it’s not a palatable subject but the inability of readers to really understand the extent of Ben’s experiences may mean we’re not as sympathetic as we could / should be. Of course I’m not meaning to diminish or downplay what happened to him – or what we believe happened to him, but it felt so vague it didn’t seem particularly real. In fact the first part of the book ended on such a menacing / shocking note I expected it continue in a more confronting manner.
The book is a tad slow in the beginning and felt like it was drawn out excessively; although it does give we readers that laid-back small town summer holiday vibe. I enjoyed meeting young Ben and Fab and I guess it’s interesting then to meet Fab when he’s older and see who he has become (and perhaps why).
Current day Fab isn’t particularly likeable. I suspect he isn’t meant to be though there are sparks of redemption…. But I really didn’t feel like I got to know him enough to care a lot about his destiny.
Brandi leaps about in time a little and it’s an oft-used technique to keep readers guessing (or fill us in on what we need to know at the right time) but for me there were too many leaps. Too many holes. Too many questions. The book felt a little disjointed and didn’t flow in a way which offered up answers. I was left confused rather than frustrated, intrigued or satisfied.
Having said all of that, I think Brandi has real talent and I enjoyed the storytelling elements of this book. Although I was waiting to get to the action / point, I think he did a great job with the two young boys and giving us a sense of their families and their lives. I note the blurb on the publisher’s site talks about Brandi’s experience as an Italian growing up in regional Australia, so he’s certainly writing from experience. The actual plot was interesting and story arc had a lot of potential… but I’m just not quite sure the delivery really did it justice. (But I’d suggest you check it out and see for yourself!)
PS. I’ve put a question or two in Goodreads for anyone who has read the book.
Wimmera by Mark Brandi published in Australia by Hachette and now available.
I received a copy of this book from the publisher for review purposes.