Bree T's Reviews > Past the Shallows

Past the Shallows by Favel Parrett
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's review
Aug 22, 2011

really liked it
bookshelves: australian
Read on August 23, 2011 — I own a copy

Brothers Miles and Harry live with their widower father on the south east coast of Tasmania. Their father is an abalone fisherman, struggling to make ends meet staying within the legal fishing requirements. For the younger Harry, it’s days spent alone at home due to his seasickness preventing his father from putting him to work on the boat. For Miles, it’s long days out at sea working hard on the boat when he’d rather be surfing. Rather be anywhere else really.

Their older brother Joe escaped. He’s building his own boat to take him away from their small town, take him away from their father. But Miles and Harry are younger and still in his care and there’s no escape for them. Their mother died in a car accident and his father’s business partner, Uncle Nick, drowned. Money is tight, as their father had to buy out Uncle Nick’s share of the boat and the business. Their father drinks, drinks with his employees, drinks alone and he’s even less pleasant for the boys to be around when he’s drunk.

Harry is a likable and curious boy who quickly gets bored of spending all his time in the house when his brother is out on the boat when his father. He explores, finding a dog that he develops a relationship with and from there he meets the kelpie’s owner, a disfigured man feared and ridiculed by the local children. Harry is frightened of him at first but soon he realises that there is nothing to fear and that George’s simple life is peaceful. George is someone who he can talk to, who listens to him and doesn’t say too much in return, only what needs to be said. It’s a sweetly developing friendship that not only provides a safe haven in a time of need but will ultimately be the bringing about of the tragedy that befalls the family.

Past The Shallows first came to my attention when it was reviewed on the First Tuesday Book Club, a monthly tv chat show here where a panel review two books each episode, usually a contemporary novel and a classic. It’s the only Aussie book show that I know of here so I always try and watch it, even if I’m not interested in the books they’re reviewing. I hadn’t heard of this one but the episode definitely piqued my interest. It received some pretty rave reviews from some of the panelists. I love trying new Aussie authors and I was intrigued with the setting of remote Tasmania. My local library didn’t have it so I ended picking up a copy when I was out shopping one day.

From almost the moment the reader is introduced to Miles and Harry, it’s clear they’re going to be sympathetic characters. Their father is a hard and unsympathetic man with what seems to be almost a disdain for his sons. An altercation with eldest son Joe has led to Joe moving out of the family home and living elsewhere, which leaves middle child Miles as bearing most of the brunt of their father’s anger as he struggles to protect the younger Harry. Miles finds simple pleasures in surfing with Joe during the times he’s not working on his father’s boat while Harry, who gets seasick and who is afraid of the water, hunts for sea treasures nearby. The ease of the scenes between the brothers make all the more jarring the scenes containing their father.

There’s a simplicity in the prose of this book – the economical way in which it is written makes the story so stripped back and bare so all you’re getting is what you need to know to complete a picture in your mind. There are no meandering scenes or long passages of dialogue. The descriptions of the Tasmanian weather are enough to have me shivering even though we’re experiencing an unseasonably warm patch in our winter right now – it sounds beautiful and horrible all at once and I couldn’t imagine what life must be like for poor Miles, out on that boat in driving rain and spraying waves as his father fished for abalone in some not-entirely legal ways.

The relationships in this book are so wonderfully crafted. The bond between the brothers is particularly beautiful, especially between Miles and Harry. Miles is so determined that Harry maintain his innocence, something that seems almost impossible in the household they are growing up in. Harry’s childlike curiosity has him overcoming his fear when he meets the hermit George and I thought the bond that grew between the two of them made for some powerful reading too. It’s clear that George seems to know more about Harry and his family life than he lets on and he provides an ear and some sympathy as their friendship blossoms.

This book is not entirely unpredictable – I had some sneaking suspicions what happened to the boys mother even before the book hinted at them and you can just tell from a very early stage that it’s hurtling towards tragedy. You can even tell what that tragedy is going to be well before it happens but this isn’t a weakness. Instead it fosters the feeling of trepidation as you keep reading, and keeps you turning the pages like you can’t help it. I think I was reading so quickly towards the end that I’ll need to read this book again because I’m bound to have missed bits in my frantic need to find out everything that was happening.

Past The Shallows has a great Australian voice and feel and a story that will leave you heartbroken. This is not a happy or hopeful book and with each passing page it gets bleaker. It’s perfect for a miserable day where you can get into the atmosphere of remote Tasmania. The characters will move you, to tears or fury and stay with you long after you’ve finished the book.

A very compelling read and looking forward to more from this author
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Comments (showing 1-2)

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Shannon (Giraffe Days) Ooh, a book set in Tassie??! I have to read this!

Bree T Yes, you should! I really liked it - depressing Aussie family-style stuff but really well written

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