Your Preview Verdict: We Were Not Men by Campbell Mattinson

Your Preview Verdict: We Were Not Men by Campbell Mattinson

A novel that punches you in the heart: the powerful, unbearably moving and ultimately uplifting story of twin brothers, Jon and Eden, as they grow up and begin to understand what it is to be men, and what it takes to knit a fractured family back together.

This is a story about love.

Love for nine-year-old twins Jon and Eden Hardacre is simple. Their mum, the creek that they swim in, each other – this is the love that they trust, love as clear and pure as sunlight, as honey, as water. But then there’s a terrible accident. And in its wake, they develop a desperation – a yearning – to outgrow tragedy. They get older, compete with each other, fall in love with the same girl, and begin to realise that their lives – and who they love – demand something more. Something deeper. Richer.

Heart-hammeringly original, intense and deeply moving, We Were Not Men is a powerhouse novel about all the various faces that love shows us and how sometimes, distracted by life, ambition or attraction, we take it for granted until it’s too late – or almost too late. An unforgettable novel about the difference between getting older and growing up, from an astonishing new and original voice, pulsing with grief, hope and love.

It is a revelation.

Read some great reviews from our Preview readers here:

We Were Not Men by Campbell Mattinson is a poignant tale of love and life that transverses decades. Stunning characterisation against a moving narrative perfectly demonstrate the extreme beauty that can accompany severe heartbreak. An unforgettable read. Sarah, VIC, 5 Stars

Raw, powerful and painful, this story is a searing novel about twin brothers overcoming tragedy and learning what love and family really mean. The imagery is vivid, colourful and occasionally brutal, with colours used to create strong emotional connections. A must read. Alanna, QLD, 5 Stars

We Were Not Men is a “slow reveal” of loss, love, and growing up amid challenges. It is written in a style that allows the readers to feel the impact of tragedy and emotional upheaval suffered by twins Jon and Eden when they became orphaned. They were only 9 years old. The story is told through Jon’s eyes. The plot centres around their adjustment to a new life with Bobbie, their step-grandmother who is dealing with the loss of her partner, her dog Hemi and their passion of swimming. This novel deals with ever-changing styles of love, sadness, relationships and teenage angst. Five stars for this enlightening and superbly told story. Be prepared to become emotionally involved with all the characters. Kerrie, NSW, 5 Stars

I love that it doesn’t neatly fit into one particular category but a commanding impression across a few genre subgroups – coming-of-age, sports fiction, domestic fiction. The story starts off through the eyes of 9yr old Jon Hardacre. Life for him and his twin brother Eden is packaged into sunshine and honey jar – the pleasures of creeks and swimming, the love of Mum and Dad, the bliss of family and contentment of the small and simple like joys like jelly beans, hot chocolate and Monte Carlo biscuits. A horrible accident shatters this family existence and the boys grow up without their parents. As they fill the vacuum and begin to compete with each other in their passion for swimming and later in love. The complications of life will stretch them in ways they never imagined. At the beginning of the book, you clearly hear the 9yr old voice, his words are few and staggered; it breathes of pain. You feel the fracture in the unspoken. 80 odd pages in, you feel their energies have shifted and it is obvious. Pins rods and plates removed and there is a different pace. This is what I like about the book, as you read you can actually feel the rhythm of the spaces they are in. There is a deep and wide spectrum in character and colour. The tension of the bonds grip you and I found myself catching my breath and tears. I wanted to grab Bobbi – their grandmother and force her to hug the twins and I also wanted to sit with her at her table and twirl a glass. As mentioned this book covers many themes. It is rich in all these veins. Mattinson is detailed and deliberate about them all. How the afternoon light pours into the room, sometimes warm-yellow, other times artificial or sepia on the skin, always soothing light. He touches on the ordinary and flaws and what you receive is sublime. Powerful in its style and depth, it moves you to be intentional and savour ordinary moments of life with loved ones. I am curious about what real honey tastes like, I am going to have a sip on a Pepperjack and rate it and as I close this review I am going to dip my toes in an outback waterhole. This is what a great book does, it moves you in more ways than one. Jane, NT, 5 Stars

We Were Not Men combines two of my passions – swimming and emotional drama. I really enjoyed this book – from the first few pages and on through the development of the main characters, Jon and Eden, and their journey through adolescence. The character that most ‘spoke to me’ though was Bobbie, their enigmatic Grandmother. She is a woman of few words, but those words are always worth listening to. Her quote that ‘sometimes you just need to hang dry white sheets on the line, because it’s nice to watch them billow’ will stay with me for a long time. Definitely recommend this for your To Be Read list. Lee, ACT, 5 Stars

We Were Not Men is a beautifully written book telling the story of twin boys growing up after the death of their parents. They were not men; they were nine years old when it happened and they are taken in by their grandmother, who, while not the most affectionate of women, loves and cares for them in her own way. Told from the perspective of Jon, their story is heartbreaking, uplifting, triumphant, sad but above all a story with heart. Christina, NSW, 5 Stars

This is a powerful novel of family. lt is a story of hopes, dreams, happiness and despair, of loss, of growing up, of relationships, but most of all of the special connection between twins. In a fast-moving world set against the backdrop of Melbourne, this novel will make you laugh but also will make you cry. Julie, NSW, 5 Stars

Riddle me this, riddle me that! While reading this book I felt like I was missing something or trying to piece the story together. In the later part of the book the main character, Jon Hardacre, mentions the word quips that his Grandmother Bobbie always talks in and that perhaps best describes the riddles. What a moving, punch you in the heart start to the book too, wow! I loved how Jon would reflect on how he would see in colours, I totally got that part of the book. A great read and loved how the theme of love in its various forms was intertwined throughout the book! Melanie, VIC, 5 Stars

A particularly well-written story of 9-year-old twin brothers, Jon and Eden Hardacre, who find their world is turned upside down through a devastatingly tragic accident. Both brothers have their own physical and emotional struggles in regaining some normality in life. Written through the eyes of the older twin, Jon, he shows us how he struggles with his own thoughts and feelings in growing up, while also looking out for his brother’s safety and success. He tells of the pleasure they derive from being together, always challenging each other to reach a higher level of excellence. We Were Not Men is an exceptionally touching novel of the different ways love and being loved helps them to accept, forgive, grow, move forward and love in return. A true love story, very thought-provoking and insightful. Karen, NSW, 5 Stars

My gosh, this book had me in tears from the get-go and did not let up. Sad tears, happy tears and some tears of laughter. A coming of age story, in the midst of grief, love in all forms and sibling rivalry. A slow burn but not in a bad way, and a different kind of storytelling than I’m used to reading. Hanadi, NSW, 4 Stars

I took my time reading We Were Not Men by Campbell Mattinson because the blurb made me think this was a story I’d want to savour and contemplate, and I was right. This is a coming-of-age story about 9-year-old twin brothers, Jon and Eden, who survive the accident that results in the death of their parents. Told from Jon’s point of view, we begin the journey of trying to move on from physical and emotional trauma; there is no going back, but the future is uncertain. There is much sorrow and sadness and grief to be processed, and although there is a thread of humour running throughout, I still found myself crying over a book. Gah! I really enjoyed the writing. I felt the story moved along well, and I appreciated that at times, I felt I was part of the action, and other times, just an observer. If you’re up for an emotional read, give this one a go. Em, NSW, 4 Stars

What a deeply moving novel! I haven’t finished a book shedding this many tears in a long time! The heartbreak that the twins, Jon and Eden, experience at a young age. Life can take a tragic turn and never be the same. Their emotional struggles with their grandmother (still dealing with her loss and heartache) and who is trying to provide them with love and support as best as she can. What a coming of age for the boys, and them understanding that life, love and relationships still must go on. Ingrid, VIC, 4 Stars

We Were Not Men is an intriguing and original novel about twin brothers Jon and Eden. It’s about a life-changing tragedy, and their struggles after their loss. It’s about finding their peace in a world that has been flipped upside down. Lisa, QLD, 4 Stars

We Were Not Men is a beautifully crafted story about twin brothers, Jon and Eden, who have an indelible bond. After a tragic accident, they start rebuilding their lives with Bobbie, their step-grandmother who is also in mourning. Jon the ‘older twin’ is the narrator, through him we follow the boy’s journey and passion for competitive swimming. Moving between city and country, they spend every moment in the water. Superbly written with lush landscapes, lovable and eclectic characters, a wonderful coming-of-age story. A spellbinding tale of grief, hope, love and most of all, family. Terese, TAS, 4 Stars

We Were Not Men is an undeniably heartbreaking story as told through the eyes of 9-year-old Jon Hardacre – ‘The Other Half’, of his identical twin Eden. The boys tragically lose both their parents in a horrific car accident at the start of the book, the loss of their mother ‘Our sun’ is particularly keenly felt, although curiously, their father’s seems almost incidental in relation. Both are injured, Eden more severely than Jon, but are eventually reunited under the care of their ill-prepared step-grandmother Bobbie, already dealing with her own grief after the death of her husband Jack. Following Jon through their teen years, the novel has a strong sense of duality; twins Jon and Eden, love and grief, lives before and after, Newport and Flowerdale but also the sense of oneness, that each are two sides of the same coin, unable to exist without the other. Talented swimmers, they compete in the pool, yet are reliant on each other for their success. Their relationship is fractured when both fall in love with Carmelita, a girl with her own tragic past – can brotherly love overcome the pain of first love? Thought-provoking, layered and moving – an exceptional read. Juanita, NSW, 4 Stars

We Were Not Men was an incredibly touching novel. It explored the triumph and tragedy of life and relationships. I thought it was well written (although it did take a while to get into) and thoroughly enjoyed it. Bernard, NSW, 4 Stars

Thank you Better Reading Preview and Harper Collins Australia for the uncorrected proof copy. I loved this book, right from the start. I was immediately absorbed with the attention to detail. After losing their parents in a tragic car accident, 9-year-old twins Jon & Eden struggle to find their place and purpose in life. The story pulled at my heartstrings, as the boys re-lived the memories of their parents through possessions left behind, sharing time between their family home and grandma Bobby’s home. Ahhh Grandma Bobby… never have I loved and hated a character at the same time. Her mannerism and interaction with the boys is witty but odd. The author beautifully depicts the innocence of children and the way they try to deal with heartbreak in its purest form. Solid 4 stars!! Angela, QLD, 4 Stars

Where do I start to describe the emotion that this book beholds? This novel certainly takes you on a journey into how life can change in a split second and flip the lives of these two small boys, twins, upside down. Written from the lens of Jon, we experience his heartache of loss, his strength of resilience and the determination of survival, with or without his brother Eden. What always grabs me in a good book are how well written and explored the complexities of relationships are through trauma and triumph. We Were Not Men does not disappoint. Nicole, VIC, 4 Stars

Imagine the heartbreak, the pain, the dislocation. Nine-year-old twins, Jon and Eden Hardacre are orphaned in a terrible car accident in which they are both injured. Jon tells us their story as they grow up with their step-grandma Bobbie, who is still grieving her own loss – the death of their grandfather. The boys compete with each other at swimming, fall in love with the same girl, and negotiate the shoals of life. The newly configured family moves between Bobbie’s farm at Flowerdale and the boy’s suburban home in Newport, Victoria. It is a challenging read, especially at the beginning because we are confined to Jon’s unfiltered nine-year-old view of what happens. Jon’s view gradually expands, and he (and we) appreciate that life is more complex, that relationships are not always straightforward. I was drawn into this story, imagining a nine-year-old view of such a tragedy, and admiring the resilience of Jon, Eden, and Bobbie as they found a way ahead, through various challenges. If we live, we learn. Nothing stays the same. Life goes on. Mr Mattinson brings his characters to life, especially Jon and Bobbie, and this is a story that will stay with me for a long time. Jennifer, ACT, 4 Stars

I enjoyed this book, but I couldn’t say that in the beginning. It took me till almost halfway to get used to the writing style and for the story to really take off. I almost gave up, and I’m glad I didn’t. This is a coming-of-age story of twin brothers following the death of their parents. While there was a lot of heartbreak in this book, I did have some laugh out loud moments with the step-grandmother Bobbie (I really liked her character). For me this book showed how life must go on even through those difficult times. The relationships between the characters were well written. Be prepared for all the emotions. You will be shocked, you will be angry with them, you will cry, and you will feel the love between them all. Overall, it was a good book. Thanks Better Reading for the opportunity to read and review this book. 4 stars, it’s worth pushing through. Di, QLD, 4 Stars

Even though I found the book draining on my emotions and heart wrenching, it also lightened my belief of love for the characters and their relationships between each other. It grasped me with the traumatic realities that occur in real life and how we have to push through them to deal with life and to be able to carry on. A very thought-provoking and memorable book. Diana, VIC, 4 Stars

We Were Not Men took me a while to get into. I almost gave up not too far in as it took me a while to adjust to the writing style. Random comments thrown into sentences that did not make sense to what the person was saying or asking. But then I thought about the characters, Eden, Jon and Bobbie and they were grieving for the loss of parents and children, and it made me think that this is what people can be like. Lost in their own thoughts and just say random things as they are focussed internally rather than knowing what is going on around them. I was glad I stuck to the end as it was a lovely story about the twins and their relationship with their grandma. Overall not a bad book to read, but probably not my favourite due to things not making sense at times to me. But that is my personal preference and others may love this book. Thanks to Better Reading for having an opportunity to review this book. Jodie, VIC, 4 Stars

Thank you, Better Reading, for my advanced copy of this novel, We Were Not Men by Campbell Mattinson. This story is a tragic, but compelling story of two nine-year-old brothers and twins, Jon and Eden as they grow up after they lose their parents in a traumatic and serious car accident. As they move in with their step-grandmother Bobbie, also a grieving widow, they fall for the same girl and continuously compete against one another, their relationship is challenged. I thoroughly enjoyed this novel. It was a great coming of age story, which continuously shifted between humour and heartbreak. I did initially struggle with the dialect between characters. I found that at times it seemed to be quite disconnected. However, as the story progressed, I became more accepting of this and invested in the story, which significantly helped. Bobbie was my favourite character within the novel. Her quirkiness and her interesting, but unique advice and perspective of the world, kept me captivated. Katherine, VIC, 3 Stars

A powerful and heartbreaking coming of age story of 9-year-old twins Jon and Eden, whose lives are thrown into disarray following a tragic accident. The twins go to live with their step-grandmother Bobbie and the reader is taken on an emotional rollercoaster as the twins heal mentally and physically, and navigate their new world; learning about life, loss, heartbreak, love, family, growing up and what it is to be men. Mattinson’s honest and poignant descriptions painted a vivid and realistic picture of both the city/country landscapes that are a beautiful backdrop to the twins’ journeys. Bobbie’s hilarious, quirky one-liners will stay with me for quite a while. However, the disjointed writing style and random dialogue/events at times made the storyline confusing and hard to follow. Though this did help to illustrate the youth and grief of the characters and their fractured family/relationships; and also highlighted the twins’ struggles in growing up and finding their place in the world, both individually and together. Overall it was a very moving and thought-provoking story, however I think my lack of connection to the characters and inability to relate to some of the story affected my overall enjoyment. Yvette, NSW, 3 Stars

They were not men. They were 9-year-old twin boys who loved swimming, their mother and each other. Life would change dramatically when the family is involved in an horrific car accident killing both parents. Jon and Eden have different memories of that fateful day which will affect them as they recover and try to move forward with the help of their step-grandmother, Bobbie, who is still grieving the loss of her husband, Jack. This very moving coming of age story is told from the perspective of Jon Hardacre as he struggles with the loss of his parents, the bond with his brother, their shared love of swimming and the trials and triumphs they face when competing together and against each other, and a great sense of betrayal when they fall in love with the same girl. The brothers are supported by an eccentric group of neighbours and friends throughout their childhood and transition to becoming men. They divide their time between suburban Melbourne and country Victoria, each with its own beauty and challenges.  The bond they share will ultimately be their salvation. Sarah, NSW, 3 Stars

From the moment of the terrible accident my heart ached for Jon and Eden. The story is told from the viewpoint of Jon and the heartache and struggles that the two young brothers endured. The writer was able to capture how they grappled with the direction their life had taken and how hard it was to find their ‘home’. The twins focused heavily on their swimming and were able to get comfort and strength from the sport that their mum also excelled at. I felt for the character of Bobbie as her life also changed in an instant. Bobbie was grieving for the love of her life but she had to move on quickly and adapt to the sudden changes in her lifestyle. It’s easy to understand why she often has a glass of wine in her hand. Bobbie was consistent and always there and that’s what I loved about her. She never gave up but she wasn’t the type of person to. The writing was sharp and the story, while sad in itself had some beautiful uplifting moments. Robin, VIC, 3 Stars

A moving and insightful book about love and grief. Twin brothers devastatingly lose their parents at a young age and are taken in by their step-grandmother, who is also grieving for her own loss. Good character studies of the boys, their grandmother and her would-be suitor. Unfortunately, I didn’t enjoy the disjointed writing style, or the abstract, seemingly deep statements from characters that had hidden meaning. But I was still compelled to finish the book, and mostly enjoyed it. Ros, ACT, 3 Stars

Both sad and sweet, a tale of twins growing out of tragedy into Olympic hopefuls. Changing their destiny as they train hard to leave the past behind them and deal with growing up in a strange yet familiar world. Written through the perspective of the just older Jon, as if you are reading his diary. You feel along with him as he grows and faces the challenges of his life, forging a new family and dealing with his losses. Kristen, NSW, 3 Stars

This was a beautiful coming of age story which I found particularly engaging having grown up in the western suburbs of Melbourne. I really enjoyed the story, however found the disjointed writing style a little hard to follow. Janine, VIC, 3 Stars

I enjoyed some parts of this book immensely, great characters, emotional, some funny bits, a lot of swimming stories and training. I found in some parts, the big letdown for me was the disjointed writing style. I found those sections of the book confusing, but luckily there were only a few sections. The story is told mostly from the perspective of Jon, one of the twins and was based mostly in Flowerdale and Newport, Victoria. The first few pages of the book are fast-paced, pull you in and are devastating for the twin boys. I loved the step-grandmother Bobbie who is going through her own grief. She is quirky, has some really funny sayings and has a love affair with wine. There is one part of the book, around two-thirds of the way through that absolutely floored me. I rarely cry over books, but this part punched me where it hurt. Overall, the story is a coming of age for the boys with a lot of heartache and emotion. Tracy, WA, 3 Stars

The tragedy at the opening of the book is quite daunting if you think about what Jon had to witness in the car. I had problems liking the characters, especially after what they did to Hemi, that really made me feel quite negative about Jon, Eden and Bobbie. Bobbie’s unrelated comments left me baffled and the short sentences didn’t work for me. The descriptions of the people and Jon’s information regarding the swimming races were very detailed but I believe it is my not being able to relate to these characters and not being fond of them that influenced my overall reading experience. Sandra, NSW, 2 Stars

Reviews

An Unforgettable Coming-of-Age Story: Read an Extract from We Were Not Men by Campbell Mattinson

Review | Extract

8 June 2021

An Unforgettable Coming-of-Age Story: Read an Extract from We Were Not Men by Campbell Mattinson

    A Powerhouse Debut: Read our Review of We Were Not Men by Campbell Mattinson

    Review | Our Review

    7 June 2021

    A Powerhouse Debut: Read our Review of We Were Not Men by Campbell Mattinson

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        Synopsis

        This is a story about love. Love for nine-year-old twins Jon and Eden Hardacre is simple. Their mum, the creek that they swim in, each other - this is the love that they trust, love as clear and pure as sunlight, as honey, as water. But then there's a terrible accident. And in its wake, they develop a desperation - a yearning - to outgrow tragedy. They grow up, compete with each other, fall in love with the same girl, and begin to realise that their lives - and who they love - demands something more. Something deeper. Richer. Heart-hammeringly original, intense and deeply moving, We Were Not Men is a powerhouse novel about all the various faces that love shows us and how sometimes, distracted by life, ambition or attraction, we take it for granted until it's too late - or almost too late. An unforgettable novel about the difference between getting older and growing up, from an astonishing new and original voice, pulsing with grief, hope and love. It is a revelation.
        Campbell Mattinson
        About the author

        Campbell Mattinson

        Campbell Mattinson started a journalism cadetship in 1987. He's mostly worked as a writer, editor, photographer and wine critic, though he's also had stints as a dishwasher in an Indian restaurant, as a data entry clerk at a stockbroker and as a proofreader of phone books. He won the Best Australian Sports Writing Award in 1996 for a story that is the basis of We Were Not Men. His 2006 biography of winemaker Maurice O'Shea, The Wine Hunter, has won numerous awards, as has his website, The Winefront. He describes We Were Not Men as 'the only story I ever really wanted to write'. 

        Books by Campbell Mattinson

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