• Originally published:
    1 October 2016

  • B-format edition published:
    1 December 2017

  • ISBN: 9781925183894

  • Format: Paperback

  • Extent: 277pp

  • AU: $29.99

  • Categories: Contemporary fiction

About the Author

Katherine Johnson was born in Queensland and grew up alongside the Brisbane River. She holds both arts and science degrees, has worked as a science journalist, and published feature articles for magazines including Good Weekend. She is the author of three previous novels: Pescador’s Wake (Fourth Estate), The Better Son (Ventura Press) and Matryoshka (Ventura Press). Her manuscripts have won Varuna Awards and Tasmanian Literary Awards. The Better Son was longlisted for both the Indie Book Awards and the Tasmania Book Prize. Katherine lives in Tasmania with her husband and two children. Her latest novel, Paris Savages, will be out in October 2019.


The Better Son

By Katherine Johnson

Longlisted for the Tasmania Book Prize 2017

Longlisted for the Indie Book Awards 2017 in Fiction

1952. Tasmania. The green, rolling hills of the dairy town Mole Creek have a dark underside — a labyrinthine underworld of tunnels that stretch for countless miles, caverns the size of cathedrals and underground rivers that flood after heavy rain. The caves are dangerous places, forbidden to children. But this is Tasmania — an island at the end of the earth. Here, rules are made to be broken.

For two young brothers, a hidden cave a short walk from the family farm seems the perfect escape from their abusive, shell-shocked father — until the older brother goes missing. Fearful of his father, nine-year-old Kip lies about what happened. It is a decision that will haunt him for the rest of his life.

Fifty years later, Kip — now an award-winning scientist — has a young son of his own, but cannot look at him without seeing his lost brother, Tommy. On a mission of atonement, he returns to the cave they called Kubla to discover if it’s ever too late to set things right. To have a second chance. To be the father he never had.

The Better Son is a richly imaginative and universal story about the danger of secrets, the beauty in forgiveness and the enthralling power of Tasmania’s unique natural landscapes.

WINNER - The University of Tasmania Prize (Tasmanian Literary Awards 2013)

WINNER - People’s Choice Award for an Unpublished Manuscript by an Emerging Writer (Tasmanian Literary Awards 2013)

WINNER - The Varuna HarperCollins Manuscript Development Award 2013


'The Better Son maps an emotional landscape as shifting and precarious as the limestone country so splendidly evoked here. Katherine Johnson is a sure-footed guide to lives hollowed out by secrets that reach deep into the past.' MICHELLE DE KRETSER, Miles Franklin Literary Award winner

'A fabulous read: moving, haunting, at times devastating, redemptive, and so evocative of the Mole Creek area.' Vern Field, editor of ISLAND MAGAZINE

'Fans of Alex Miller and Michelle de Kretser will enjoy this deep and imaginative story with nuanced and relatable characterization.' Hannah Cartmel, BOOKS + PUBLISHING

­­­‘This book will work for readers across generations. Johnson writes of childhood and crystalline recognition of what it is like to be young and coexist with a sibling, the exquisite juxtaposition of love and hate that can come in the single breath.’ Rachel Edwards, HOBART MERCURY

‘An Australian writer to watch.’ Annie Condon, READINGS MONTHLY

‘As well as the sharply drawn characters, the brooding Tasmanian wilderness is a powerful character on its own and is well woven into the compelling storyline. Sue Wallace, WEEKLY TIMES MELBOURNE

'A gripping story of loss, trauma and the devastating impact of family secrets, The Better Son is a literary thriller that haunts the reader well beyond its final page.' 
RACHEL POWER, author of Creativity and Motherhood: The Divided Heart

The Better Son not only plumbs the depths of human sadness, loss and anger, but it explores the vast beauty of this karst system.’ WARP MAGAZINE

‘A dark mystery that explores the power of secrets, guilt and regret on a family and the Tasmanian setting is unforgettable.’ CARPE LIBRUM

‘A beautifully written novel that I found both confronting and disturbing, as well as very moving’. 

‘Quintessentially Australian, featuring a complex family drama fraught with secrets and lies and told within a evocative and dangerous landscape.’ DEBBISH

'A tightly woven exploration of relationships, secrets and regrets with an undercurrent of self-sacrifice and the tiniest slivers of hope, set against the dramatic and deadly landscape of Tasmania’s mountain regions.' THE BOOKSHELF GARGOYLE

‘Recommended.’ SA LIFE

‘If I could give this novel 6 stars instead of the usual 5, I would.’ BOOK MUSTER DOWN UNDER

‘Readers who enjoy contemporary Australian fiction will thoroughly enjoy this novel. I congratulate Johnson on her exquisite, poetic writing throughout The Better Son. A fine read.’ NADIA L KING

‘Katherine Johnson certainly deserves the acclaim she has received for this book.’

‘The Better Son is a well-written family drama you will be loathe to put down. Inspired by true historical events, it makes for a compelling read, the perfect book to pick up for the holidays to enjoy on the beach or in the hammock.’ BUT BOOKS ARE BETTER

The Better Son is an intriguing novel of secrets and lies. Recommended.’ KATHRYN'S INBOX

‘At its peak, it made me cry, and that cannot happen without an emotional connection to characters and a story that is believable and poignant.’ GIRAFFE DAYS

‘A gripping, unforgettable read.’ GREAT ESCAPE BOOKS

‘An enthralling and seductive story.’ RAPUNZEL READS

Other Titles by Katherine Johnson