Mark Brandi’s novel Wimmera was not the kind of thing I had in mind for holiday reading. But my friend Sam had read it in one sitting and a copy jumped into my trolley when I was shopping in Big W. By page five, I almost set it down- camping holidays by the ocean called for fluff writing, and clearly this was not going to be a fluffy story. But, the quality of the writing meant that I had to press on. And I am so glad that I did. When I finished the last page, I wanted to give Brandi a big hug and thank him for his courage to write. Wimmera is an outstanding piece of Australian fiction that deals with important and disturbing issues in a compassionate manner.
Set predominately in the late 1980’s in the farming region of Wimmera in South Australia, Wimmera tells the story of best friends, Fab and Ben, twelve year old boys growing up in an era of free-range parenting. Brandi captures life as it was in 1989, transporting me back to many of my own childhood moments- I was also a kid in that era, growing up in rural Australia. (I vividly remember catching yabbies in the dam on a neighbour’s property. Jessie nicked a sieve from his mum’s kitchen. It sunk in the middle of the dam when he tried to throw it to Taj.) The novel evoked many moments of nostalgia for me.
The writing is incredibly talented; vivid imagery and authentic dialogue (lots of ‘f’ bombs and even the c word); realistic characters with great depth; wonderful descriptions of setting. The plot is heavy and dark with a sense of foreboding for the young characters as I turned each page. There were many moments that I felt sick in my stomach; but the subject matter called for that, and the response was clearly what Brandi was aiming for.
At one point Brandi described the porno that Ben was given by the strange man next door. The writer gave far too much detail- a description of what Ben could see on each and every page. I was offended and annoyed; I felt Brandi had taken it too far, a little self indulgent. But by the end of the story I had understood why Brandi did it; he had to let us in to Ben’s world. To allow us to see what what happening to Ben’s innocent mind. This was no glorification of pornography.
If you’re easily offended or you can’t read dark, difficult stuff, then give Wimmera a miss. But if you can cope with the brutal reality of life, as told in vivid and confronting language, then you will find Wimmera an excellent read.
Wimmera is Mark Brandi’s debut novel and I think he might be the next Tim Winton. I very much look forward to reading more of his work.
**I haven’t told you much about the plot- I really wanted to, but I didn’t want to ruin it for you. I’m up for a chat about it later if you’re keen though.
Image by Hatchette Australia Books