Book reviews

Posts tagged ‘Mark Brandi’

The Rip by Mark Brandi

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.

Wimmera by Mark Brandi

wimmera

Wimmera is the debut novel of Australian author Mark Brandi, who won the 2016 Crime Writer’s Association Debut Dagger Award for this novel.

To begin with, for non-Australian readers, the Wimmera is a district in the north-west of Victoria. It is mostly flat, except for the Grampians mountain range, with a handful of remote small towns. Summers in the Wimmera are harsh and these days the towns are dying as they become less viable in their farming communities.

Wimmera is the story of two primary school-aged boys, Ben and Fab, who were friends growing up during the late 1980s in Stawell, one of the larger towns in the Wimmera district.

There is a strong sense of unease around the normality in this town. A girl from Ben’s street suicides by hanging herself on the clothesline in the backyard, and very soon after a creepy bloke who likes Ben a bit too much moves in to her old house. Fab is bullied at school, and although Ben is able to protect him at school, he is unable to help Fab at home when his father belts him and his mother.

I’m not all that familiar with teenage boys, and it is a long time since I was a teenage girl who thought teenage boys were great, but I found the portrayal of Ben’s growing sexuality to be sordid and confused, and the shadow over him left me feeling unhappy and disturbed.

Ben and Fab grow up and go their separate ways, but when a body is found years later their paths cross again. There are two time-lines in this story, the first of the boys as children and the second of Fab as an adult, trapped in Stawell but dreaming of a better life.

The story brought back a lot of memories for me from the 1980s, from watching The Wonder Years on television to the prestige which came from owning certain types of sneakers, although these happier memories didn’t make up for the terrible things that some of the adult characters did to the children. While the violence and cruelty is not explicit, Wimmera is not a story for those who cannot stomach cruelty done to children by evil men.

I’m looking forward to reading more of Mark Brandi’s works in the future, but would prefer him to write a more palatable class of crime.

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