In Mark Brandi’s new novel The Rip, a homeless, young, female drug addict says to the reader: “I don’t think I could ever make you understand what it’s like for me, unless you could be me for a minute.” Of course, this is precisely the kind of sympathetic identification the novel encourages. It invites the reader to witness this character’s life for the duration of its story, using first-person point of view and a direct form of address that cleverly intensifies the illusion of conspiratorial intimacy.
As a novel about drug addiction, an obvious point of comparison may be Luke Davies’ Candy. However, The Rip is set in Melbourne, rather than Sydney, and while Melbourne is evoked with loving familiarity, this most definitely isn’t a love story. Like Wimmera, Brandi’s first acclaimed novel, The Rip is a work of crime fiction. Sofie Laguna has provided a recommendation for the front cover, and Brandi’s narrator shares much in common with Laguna’s protagonists, who are usually young and naive, from low socioeconomic backgrounds, and in danger.
The narrator of The Rip is a young woman whose history of foster homes and abuse is recognised from time to time but never dwelled on. This is in part because, as the stoical narrator reflects, “I just don’t like to make excuses.” She also doesn’t like pity or charity. When we first meet her, she is sleeping rough at Princes Park with her two companions, her dog, Sunny, and the philosophically inclined Anton. All three have what might be described as good hearts. The narrator occasionally “turns tricks” when she needs some fast cash, and they sneak into the cinemas (to watch films such as Dogville and Breaking the Waves), but generally they avoid crime. Their somewhat romanticised existence, however, ends when another addict of poorer character draws them into his shady life. Metaphorically speaking, the narrator and her friend Anton soon find themselves caught in a rip and “suddenly miles from shore”.
The writing is disciplined and plot-driven, and not without wit and acumen, something we see when the narrator is driven away from outside the retail store Off Ya Tree, as she’s considered “bad for business, like I’m an advertisement for where it could all end up”. The plot is ultimately predictable, though the important tension arguably comes from the narrator’s gradual coming to awareness. The Rip will undoubtedly draw many readers in.
Hachette, 272pp, $29.99
This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Mar 16, 2019 as "Mark Brandi, The Rip ". Subscribe here.