Review: WIMMERA by Mark Brandi

Told in three parts WIMMERA focuses on two people. In the first part we meet Ben and Fab; best friends in their final year of primary school. In their small rural town they are left to their own devices for great swathes of time. Not due to bad parenting but because that’s the way the world was then. The boys watch TV, play backyard cricket, go yabbying and camping. They can talk endlessly of mindless things such as the intricate rules for their favourite activities but they actively avoid discussing the big, scary stuff. Like why Ben’s 14-year old neighbour hung herself on the family clothesline or the fact that Fab’s father beats him regularly. No one, not even the adults, talks about those things. Towards the end of this part of the book readers know that something has gone awry for one of the boys but we have to speculate about the details. In the book’s second and third acts we find out a little more as the boys’ history is investigated, but even by the end of the novel there’s still a lot we don’t know.

It doesn’t feel quite right to say I loved WIMMERA given it is so sad and full of melancholy. But what other word is there?

I loved that it depicts an Australia I instantly recognised. Although it is set in rural Victoria I think WIMMERA owes more to its core events taking place in the late 1980’s than to its geography. Things – often awful or frightening things – that are known but not spoken of are at the heart of this story and that kind of secret keeping is – or was – not reserved for country towns. The inner-city street I grew up on was equally good at hiding things. That said, the book’s physical setting is utterly authentic too.

I loved that the book’s central characters are neither heroic nor extremely flawed. They’re ‘normal’, for want of a better word. They do good things and not-so-good things and fumble their way through life, like most of us. Maybe other readers look for inspiration from fictional characters but I like it best when people in fiction are as clueless and awkward as I usually am.

I loved that the book left so much unsaid. At 262 pages WIMMERA is one of the shortest modern novels I’ve read. And though it clearly annoys some readers I found the lack of detail very fitting. This is, after all, big scary stuff. Not the kind of thing people talk about. It feels very realistic to me that people like Ben and Fab – growing up when and where they did – would never tell all. Probably couldn’t tell all even if they had the desire to.

Like its geographic namesake WIMMERA is quite beautifully sparse and reveals its secrets unwillingly. Surely only the hardest of hearts could fail to be moved by Ben and Fab’s story even though they struggle so hard to share it. Or perhaps because they struggle so hard to share it. Highly recommended.


Publisher: Hachette, 2017
ISBN: 9780733638459
Length: 262 pages
Format: paperback
Source of review copy: I bought it

Review: THE LIGHT ON THE WATER, Olga Lorenzo

  • this edition published by Allen & Unwin Australia 2016
  • ISBN 978-1-92526-654-2
  • 350 pages
  • Longlisted Best Adult Novel – Davitt Awards 2017

Synopsis (publisher)

A little girl disappears in the wilderness. Two years later her mother is arrested for her murder. A provocative and unflinching literary novel of love, guilt and grief set against the wilderness of the Australian coast.
Recently divorced and trying to make sense of her new life, Anne takes her daughter Aida on an overnight bushwalk in the moody wilderness of Wilsons Promontory. In a split second, Aida disappears and a frantic Anne scrambles for help. Some of the emergency trackers who search for Aida already doubt Anne’s story.Nearly two years later and still tormented by remorse and grief, Anne is charged with her daughter’s murder. Witnesses have come forward, offering evidence which points to
her guilt. She is stalked by the media and shunned by friends, former colleagues and neighbours.On bail and awaiting trial, Anne works to reconstruct her last hours with Aida. She remembers the sun high in the sky, the bush noisy with insects, and her own anxiety, as oppressive as the heat haze.

A superbly written and conceived literary work about the best and the worst aspects of family life, this story asks difficult questions about society, the media, and our rush to judgement.
This is a thoughtful, provocative and unflinching novel in the tradition of Helen Garner, Joan London and Charlotte Wood.

My Take
Aida, 6 years old and autistic, runs ahead of her mother on an overnight camping trip and bushwalk to Wilsons Promontory and disappears. Anne has already questioned her own wisdom in taking Aida for this walk, and when Aida cannot be found, others question it too. Hours turn into days, weeks, and months and there is no news about what has happened to Aida. Media attention ensures that Anne is unable to appear in public without people recognising her face and often saying dreadful things. A FaceBook page she sets up turns nasty. Friends turn away when they see her.
Eventually it becomes obvious that the police are considering charging Anne with negligence or worse.
A very thought provoking read, probably on the outer rim of crime fiction.
My rating: 4.4
About the author

Olga Lorenzo is the author of The Rooms in My Mother’s House,
which was published in 1996 and shortlisted for various literary awards.
She has won the Felix Meyer Scholarship and the Percival Serle Bequest
at the University of Melbourne for her writing, as well as grants from
Arts Victoria and the Australia Council, and a Varuna Fellowship. Olga
has taught writing at RMIT University and in a variety of other
Melbourne tertiary institutions for nineteen years, and has a Masters
and a PhD in creative writing from the University of Melbourne. She
previously worked as a journalist and sub-editor for the Melbourne Age.