- The Others, by Mark Brandi. Hachette, $32.99.
Italian-born, Melbourne based author Alex Brandi burst onto the literary scene, with his debut rural noir novel Wimmera (2017), which won the CWA Debut Dagger as well as the Indie Book Award for Debut Fiction.
His second novel, The Rip (2019), also gathered considerable critical acclaim and was long listed for Best Fiction at both the Indie and the CWA awards.
Brandi has said that the inspiration for his latest novel, The Others, came from an incident in his childhood.
He grew up on a farm in rural Victoria and he remembers vividly the day his father brought home a young fox injured in a trap, which then became a pet.
Brandi describes this as one of his first insights into "some of the complexities and contradictions of the adult world".
He first wrote a fictionalised account of the incident, from a child's perspective, in a short story published in Meanjin in 2016.
The Others therefore began as a return to that child's voice, because, Brandi claims, "I felt there was more to it and that was a world I wanted to explore".
The Others is the story of Jacob and his father, who live in a dilapidated house on a remote farm somewhere in the Australian bush.
They have no contact with the outside world and Jacob is home schooled.
On his 11th birthday, his father gives him a diary to "write about things that happen . . . around the house and the farm", as well as his thoughts.
The diary reveals that the father constantly warns Jacob about the dangers of "the others", who "live over the hill and only come out when it's dark".
There's been a plague, which has decimated the population.
His father tells Jacob that the others "came after the plague spread and infected everyone.
"They came because they're survivors like us. But they're different from us, because they are carriers".
The drought is making life difficult, food is scarce and the sheep are being attacked by foxes.
Jacob records in his diary his fear of the world beyond the farm, but also how his father keeps changing his story about why they need to stay isolated.
Eventually, he disobeys his father, climbs a nearby hill to discover a terrible truth.
Brandi creates, through the sparse sentences and limited vocabulary of a child, a particularly compelling and chilling exploration of control and obsession.
It's a remarkable achievement, full of tension and dread, as Jacob confronts his fears of the outside world.