2018 Reviews · Australian · contemporary fiction

Book Review: Hey Brother by Jarrah Dundler

Title: Hey Brotherhey brother small

Author: Jarrah Dundler

Published: August 1st 2018

Publisher: Allen & Unwin

Pages: 288

Genres: Fiction, Australian, Contemporary

RRP: $29.99

Rating: 4 stars

Before leaving for war in Afghanistan, Shaun Black gives his little brother Trysten a mission of his own. Keep out of trouble. 

Trysten tries, but with Mum hitting the bottle harder than ever and his dad not helping, Trysten responds the only way he knows how, with his fists – getting into a fight at school and lining up for another one with his uncle who’s come to stay. 

When the family receives news that Shaun will be home for Christmas, Trysten is sure that good times are coming. But when Shaun returns, Trysten soon realises he has a whole new mission – to keep Shaun out of trouble. 

Hey Brother tells the story of a tough kid from the bush whose world comes crashing down on his shoulders. But with his own blend of fury, resilience and deadpan humour, Trysten proves to be up for every challenge. 

Review:

Hey Brother, the debut novel by writer Jarrah Dundler, has had a great journey to publication. It was chosen by the Byron Writers Residential Mentorship, a Varuna Writers Fellowship and shortlisted for the 2017 Australian/Vogel Literary Award. Hey Brother has now made its way into the hands of Australian readers and it certainly knows how to impress!

Billed as a compelling coming-of-age tale that tackles issues such as mental illness, PTSD, family estrangement, alcoholism and the shortcomings faced by Australian rural based communities, Hey Brother tackles these issues head-on. This is the story of brotherhood, mateship and family loyalty. Hey Brother also carefully considers the impact of the departure of a loved one fighting abroad as a solider and how the family left behind on the home front deals with this situation. It pivots around the story of Trysten, a young narrator who must deal with his shattered family, while his brother fights for his life in Afghanistan. Hey Brother then moves into another phase in Trysten’s life, as Shaun returns and must adjust back into home life. Trysten is placed with the burden of ensuring that his brother doesn’t get into any further strife. The reader watches on in awe as Trysten negotiates the challenges of his family, against his own awakening. Hey Brother is a remarkable commentary on modern Australian boyhood.

Acclaimed Australian author Kristina Olsson states Hey Brother is, ‘A devastating portrait of youth, rage and tenderness. Trysten Black is an enormous achievement and Dundler is a writer to watch’. I have to concur with Kristina Olsson in every way. Dundler has proved to his audience that his star is rising and I know after reading Hey Brother I will be closely following his writing. There is a sense of magic is Dundler’s prose, it manages to covey what we are thinking and feeling with raw honesty. It is intense in many places, incredibly raw and rich in feeling. The language is distinctively Australian and the subject matter is presented in an accessible format.

If we take a close look at the author’s background and preoccupations, it is safe to say that Hey Brother is infused with all the things that matter the most to Jarrah Dundler. His background as a former aid volunteer, university tutor and his current position as a mental health peer support worker, has put him the best position possible to pen a novel that zones in on mental illness. Coming from such as strong background in this area gives Dundler the understanding to compose a novel that rightly puts mental illness in the spotlight. We need more brave writers like Jarrah Dundler around to tackle these issues and put them on the public agenda, they should be a priority. Hey Brother offers a good balance between raw honesty and sensitivity around a subject that can be delicate.

Jarrah Dundler was raised in Bundjalung country, which is in the vicinity of the Northern Rivers area of NSW. Again this puts Dundler at an advantage. The setting of Hey Brother is expressive and graphic. I was able to easily situate myself in Trysten’s world and the area in which he hails from. The prose in this area is flavourful. It was also a little nostalgic for me at times, as this not too distant past, a world where emails are the new form of communication, was evoked in a perfect tone by Dundler.

In some respects, Hey Brother could be classed as a coming-of-age tale, in the same tradition as great novels such as Jasper Jones. Hey Brother catalogues Trysten’s evolution as the book progresses and it is a fascinating journey to follow. Dundler is able to get right inside Trysten’s head, which I imagine could not have been an easy task. Dundler helps the reader to view the world through Trysten’s eyes. We are there every step of the way as Trysten picks up the pieces of his family’s shattered life, acts as a go between with his parents, props up his  big brother and still manages to be an impulsive teenager. I think Dundler succeeds in every way in his ability to completely inhabit Trysten Black.

Dundler’s high level characterisation skills are not solely reserved for Trysten Black, his central protagonist, we are also given a very solid picture of his brother Shaun. This comes through others eyes and at a distance, followed by first hand experiences when Shaun comes home. Trysten’s mother, father and deadbeat uncle are incredibly well drawn. Even Trysten’s friends are painted with a firm set of brush strokes.

The passage we take in Hey Brother, with the epochal Trysten Black is a noteworthy one. I know Hey Brother will refuse to leave me, long after reading the final word of this tender novel. If you have been wise enough to invest your time in this immersive novel, then the ending is well worth the wait. It is inspiring and it will leave you a little breathless with wonder. Hey Brother is a novel that gives and gives until the parting word.

Hey Brother by Jarrah Dundler was published on 1st August 2018 by Allen & Unwin. Details on how to purchase the book can be found here.

*Thanks extended to Allen & Unwin for providing a free copy of this book for review purposes.

 

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