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Southern Aurora by Mark Brandi

28/06/2023
Southern Aurora by Mark Brandi

Mark Brandi has made a name for himself mainly with books that focus on and are narrated by teenagers and involve childhood trauma. His blistering debut Wimmera has partially told from a twelve year old’s point of view and his last novel The Others, was narrated by a ten year old. So it is perhaps not a surprise (but a little disappointing) that his latest novel Southern Aurora, is also narrated by a teenager, growing up in country New South Wales in the 1980s.

Jimmy is literally growing up on the wrong side of the tracks. His older brother is in jail, his alcoholic mother has a new boyfriend who hits her, he has one friend at school and his younger brother has an intellectual disability of some sort and attends a special school. Jimmy is patiently waiting his brother’s release from prison and is fixated on winning a school billycart race, a quest that will bring him new friends and opportunities but also teach him some valuable life lessons.

In Southern Aurora, Brandi shows again his ability to navigate painful and dark subjects through the optimistic eyes of childhood. Despite much of what is going on around him, Jimmy manages to keep a positive view of his life and of his future. And while he does not understand all what is going on (or tries not to understand it due to the pain it will cause him) Brandi makes sure that readers understand exactly what is happening. But that is also a drawback of this type of narrative. No twelve year old is as observant or naively insightful as Jimmy needs to be to make this story work. So that the adult behind the child’s voice is not hidden enough.

The narrative perspective means that Brandi cannot get beyond this to other issues. And while there is a thread of domestic violence (a given for Australian books set in this type of setting in this era) the biggest question of the book is whether Jimmy will win his billycart race. Brandi has great affection for his narrator and his milieu and his references will no doubt generate some nostalgia for readers of a certain age and fascination for those who are a little younger. But being narrated by a twelve year old means that Southern Aurora cannot result in much more than a nostalgia trip.

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Southern Aurora by Mark Brandi

$32.99 AUD
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7.0/10

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Southern Aurora by Mark Brandi

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