Review: The Others by Mark Brandi

Even with two extraordinary novels under his belt, this stands as a radical achievement for Mark Brandi. “The Others” is a spare yet emotionally sumptuous psychological drama, laced with page-turning suspense, and a creeping sense of dread that turns into something excruciatingly claustrophobic as it builds to its heart-pounding crescendo.

In my mind, “The Others” is an antithetical revision of Cormac McCarthy’s “The Road.” In both books there are two main characters, a father and a son, who are each other’s universe, and whose existence consists of surviving from one day to the next. But the challenges facing McCarthy’s protagonists were clear, to them and the reader: they’re scavengers in a post-apocalyptic world, the dangers clear and present. The world of eleven-year-old Jacob and his father in “The Others” is rather more implicit, framed through the prism of the elder, who insists a plague has decimated society, and their only chance of survival is to remain secluded on their farm, away from ‘the others.’

In both “The Road” and “The Others,” the boys look to their father for reassurance, safety, and to make some kind of sense of this chaotic world. The father in “The Road” provided a glimmer of lightness and hope. Jacob’s father offers something darkly capricious. It’s hinted at throughout Jacob’s narration — which is presented as a diary, replete with sketches and dictionary definitions of newly-discovered words — and made patently clear at various intervals, when his father’s eyes shine ‘black as pitch,’ and he spews menacing explanations for his wavering behaviour: ‘Sometimes, you have to do the most terrible things. Sometimes, you just have to.’

Rendered in plainsong prose that perfectly encapsulates the perspective of its young protagonist, “The Others” is easily one of the most compelling and compulsive books I’ve read in ages. A story of paternal love twisted into something ruinous, about a boy trying to live under the rule of his father’s authoritarian regime while compelled to see and understand the world for himself, it seizes you by the throat from its opening pages and never lets go.

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