Firstly, a huge thank you to Pushkin Press and NetGalley for providing me with a copy of this novel in exchange for an honest review.
CW: Domestic violence, child abuse, sexual assault, animal abuse, suicide, incest.
After being away from her childhood home for several years, Jana returns to the decrepit farmhouse that not only houses her deep childhood trauma but also her twin brother Bror. Being back home causes Jana to face the past that she has been doing everything she can to run away from.
As you can see by the content warnings My Brother is a heavy read, and a dark one, which is something I enjoy. It took awhile for me to get into this novel, it was quite slow starting and whilst there were elements of mystery of Jana’s past and of Maria, it didn’t have enough tension at first. However, once more began to be revealed and we started getting flashbacks into Jana’s childhood it really gripped me.
Whilst the content does make for uncomfortable reading, this is also down to Smirnoff’s writing style. With short, blunt, sentences and incredibly detailed descriptions, even when what she’s describing are quite mundane things – or typical of everyday life. I felt that this was also achieved through the way the dialogue is written. It is often very confusing at first as it isn’t always entirely obvious who it is that is speaking. Sometimes this could make scenes difficult to understand, however it did lend itself well to making conversations more disconcerting.
However, what stood out to me the most in this book was how complex the characters were. It seemed as though every character had something dark hidden in their past. As the entire novel was told from Jana’s perspective, it made it especially difficult to work out who to trust. I found it difficult to like Jana at first, she was very closed off to everyone around her which didn’t make it easy to get to know her. However, as one name progresses and more is revealed about her past and her previous relationships, I then found myself becoming more endeared to her.
There were a lot of characters in this novel that appear in both Jana’s past and present. Similarly to Jana, hardly any of them were likeable at first (or in some cases at all). This isn’t a bad thing, however, as it was very clear which characters you are supposed to detest and in learning more about Jana’s childhood, it helped you form attachments to characters in the present. For example, seeing what her brother Bror was like as a child made it easier to like him as an adult. This didn’t excuse his behaviour in the present but helped you understand it. John was another interesting character that we see a lot of during the novel, but at the same time we don’t know much about him at all. My feelings towards John constantly changed, throughout the novel it felt as though the more we learned about him the less sure about him I was until we reached the end.
Overall, once I got around 40% into the book I really began to enjoy it and found myself really invested in the characters. If you enjoyed The Discomfort of Evening by Marieke Lucas Rijneveld, I definitely think you will enjoy this too!