Wimmera by Mark Brandi

‘There were some things that were, without doubt, better left unsaid .’

In the summer of 1989, Ben and Fab (short for Fabrizio) are two boys growing up in a small country town in the Wimmera. Best friends, almost teenagers, spending their days playing cricket and catching yabbies. They’ll start high school in 1990. They ride their BMX bikes and dream of owning Nikes. There are shadows in their lives: Fab’s father is violent, and Ben is unsettled by the sudden death of a neighbour. But these are things not spoken of.

‘Thought maybe you could give me a hand .’

And then a man moves into town. Ronnie is big, he looks strong and he strikes up an acquaintanceship with Ben’s parents. He offers Ben some work around his house, an opportunity to earn money. This is the first of a series of events which will end one life and change two others forever.

Twenty years later, Fab is still living in the same town. He’s trapped, by circumstance and inertia. He hopes for something better but seems unable to summon the drive to make it happen. And then a body is found in the river. What happened in 1989?

‘No one knows the things I saw .’

I read this novel four weeks ago and have been thinking about it since. It’s a tough read because of the issues it covers (including child abuse and paedophilia), made tougher because of the age of the boys. All actions have consequences, and as I read through the final part of the novel I kept wondering ‘What if?’. I kept thinking of things that Ben and Fab could have done differently. And then I realised that 11-year-old boys are not adults.

This is one of those novels which is uncomfortable on so many levels. We come to know the two boys in the first part of the novel, travel with them to and through the tragedy. Then, twenty years later, a police interview and a court case take us back to the events of 1989.

I’d recommend this novel: it’s well-written crime fiction dealing with topical issues (domestic violence, child abuse and paedophilia). I’d note though, that while explicit detail is generally avoided, this will not be a novel for all readers.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith