I read and enjoyed Wimmera by Australian author Mark Brandi some time ago so was happy to come across his next book, The Rip.
The Rip is set in Melbourne. It is narrated by an unnamed young woman who is a homeless drug addict. She has a bull terrier, Sunny, and not much else apart from a sleeping bag and some clothes. She usually sleeps in Princes Park and hangs around with another homeless man, Anton.
The narrator and Anton spend their days trying to get enough money to buy drugs.
When they hooked up with Steve, a friend of Anton’s, he invited them to sleep at his flat. The narrator was uneasy around Steve and recognised that he had something over Anton, but they went with him and settled into a pattern of getting money during the day and shooting up at night. Steve pressured the narrator into begging for cash, although she preferred prostitution, which in her eyes was a more honest way to make money. At the same time Anton was pressured into burgling houses with Steve.
A strange smell in Steve’s flat left the narrator anxious and curious. When Steve caught her trying to pick the lock to his bedroom door to learn what the smell was, he beat her badly. Another time he gave her drugs mixed with an unknown substance which would have killed her, had not an elderly neighbour called an ambulance for her.
I hadn’t expected this to be a story of friendships between homeless people or to learn that theirs is such a genuine community. I often walk past the Salvation Army Centre on Bourke Street which is featured in this story. It offers meals in the Lighthouse Café, showers, drug and alcohol services, assistance with accommodation and other services to people in need. There are always homeless people sleeping in nearby doorways or sitting on benches, having a chat and watching the world go by.
I also liked that a police officer in this story looked out for the narrator and that she wasn’t judged by hospital staff or people at the needle exchange.
The story doesn’t glamourise drug use, homelessness and the connected issues in any way but in some ways I felt as if the author let go of some events in the story too easily. For example, there were allusions to the narrator’s childhood and the pure misery of being in foster care, but clearly she didn’t want to dwell on these memories, and the same when she was beaten up by Steve. While it is understandable that the narrator did not to want to remember her bad times, it created the glossing over effect which I felt.
I was surprised to find that I liked the narrator. In real life, I would probably not make eye contact and would hold on to my handbag a little tighter than normal as I hurried past her, but as a character in a book I wanted to protect her from herself and from others. I was pleased to learn her name later in the story.
The Rip is not as bleak as it sounds. I think it is equally as good as Wimmera and am already looking forward to Mark Brandi’s next book.