A boy gets a diary for his 11th birthday, to help with his writing practice. What begins as an innocent account of a child’s daily life quickly becomes for the reader something much darker.
We see the world through the eyes of a child, written with masterful naivety by Mark Brandi that few authors manage to capture. The boy tells us about his daily routine, his schoolwork, the farm work he and his father do, and the names of his favourite sheep. He tells us about his father’s ‘gold tooth’ – the way he knows his father’s smile is genuine, and how he misses seeing it more because the rain hasn’t come. He tells us how he’s learnt ‘being taught something’ is different to ‘being taught a lesson’. Through our story-teller, we begin to cotton on that life on the farm is anything but normal. Our main character has only ever known this world; we know better.
The story is written in a way that drags you in and pulls you along, unwillingly at times as the brutality of nature is so vividly portrayed (and sketched) by our young protagonist. His father, stern and scarce with his affection, runs through the narrative with an enigmatic, threatening presence – the reader gets to see more than our protagonist does, which adds to the tension. We understand; his son does not.
The cast is light-on. The father and son are central, we have some animal characters, and four people mostly alluded too – his mother, and three Others. The beauty of The Others is that we don’t need anyone else; the sense of Tasmanian isolation and the terror that comes with it really makes the story.
As plots go, there isn’t the traditional rollercoaster ride of some thrillers. Instead, there is a slow rolling on of dread which grows with each secret our protagonist keeps from his father – a note, voices heard in the dead of night, a strange noise in the trees – that finally comes to a traumatic head in the final chapters. The resolution is swift, underwhelming; it leaves more questions than it answers. We puzzle together the last terrible clues and are left with a sense that life could never be the same again.
Only one thing let the book down for me – the voice of our protagonist changed. In the final act he goes from using the childish descriptions of a boy to a very deliberate ‘lyrical’ style of the author. Descriptions took priority and it felt jarringly unnatural from our protagonist to be spouting self-reflective prose. However, for the most part, the ‘voice’ of our main character stayed the same, without ever compromising on storytelling.
The most interesting thing for me was that names were never used. Our main character’s name – Jacob – was never said by his father; only once in a letter, on basically the last page. His father’s name was never given at all. The only character named in full was Jacob’s mother. It was a surprise for me that a story could flow so well without ever really giving itself away – we never quite find out all the details. The mystery is left open for our interpretation, and in the end, that’s the scariest part of all.
I would give The Others 4/5 stars because nothing is perfect but this gets pretty dang close.
♥ Gretchen Bernet-Ward—in collaboration with Dot Bernet.
Mark Brandi’s bestselling novel, Wimmera, won the coveted British Crime Writers’ Association Debut Dagger, and was named Best Debut at the 2018 Australian Indie Book Awards. It was also shortlisted for the Australian Book Industry Awards Literary Fiction Book of the Year, and the Matt Richell Award for New Writer of the Year. His second novel, The Rip, was published to critical acclaim by Hachette Australia in March 2019. Mark published The Others in 2021.
Mark graduated with a criminal justice degree and worked extensively in the justice system, before changing direction and deciding to write. Originally from Italy, he grew up in rural Victoria, and now lives in Melbourne and is creating his next work of fiction.