Okay, fair reader, it has been several months since my last post, but I think a lot about abandoned blogs, and rather than build on that (to open blogging, perhaps?) I’ve decided to resurrect this one, instead.
(Also, I like the name.)
Since my last little book review (Threats, by Amelia Gray) I’ve been eating up as much new fiction as I can get my hands on. My old plan of reading all the ‘books I should have read by now’ is on hold for a while. I have bunch I want to talk about, but that’s for later. For now:
Past the shallows.
The first thing that hit me about this novel is the setting. The remote Tasmanian coast is immediately shown as a place of wild beauty, both deadly and life-giving. The abalone that live out in those black waters – past the shallows – is given a new name on the first page.
Head time is split between eleven-year-old Harry and his older brother Miles as they struggle through life after their mother’s untimely death. Their father – referred to but once simply as Dad – is a near-voiceless figure of malevolence. Throughout, Dad and the ocean are drawn as a parallel; unpredictable, dangerous, inescapable. Harry fears the ocean. Miles understands its movements, its shifting currents, its treachery, and does not trust it.
Harry’s point of view is understandably naive – though he’s been through a lot, he’s still young. As with most (all?) unreliable child narrators, many scenes are much more tense and emotionally striking when seen through the eyes of an uncomprehending child. I did find some of his more obsessive and jubilant sections somewhat grating, but his fundamental kind and friendly nature won through.
I found Miles and his interactions with his brothers – younger Harry and older Joe – were much more interesting. We see him try to protect Harry from Dad’s unpredictable moods. We share his desire to extract them both from the future that seems set in stone for both of them – working on the boat with Dad, fishing for abalone. Throughout, there are signs that Joe tried to hold a similarly protective role, but his methods are vastly different.
The writing itself is beautiful and evocative. Many reviewers have compared Parrett’s writing to that of Tim Winton, and I tend to agree. I’ve never visited Tasmania, let alone its remote coast, but those storm-thrashed beaches are clear in my mind’s eye. The characters are almost universally well-drawn and emotive. All the excitement, uncertainty, and fear of the family is communicated flawlessly, and every adrenaline rush and heartbreak is resonant and haunting. I am not too proud to admit that I shed a manly tear or two at the end of the story.
After recovering, I was left with a few unanswered questions, and there was one spelling mistake (a confusable pair – thanks a lot, university!) that dragged me out of the story. But in all, Past the Shallows is a superbly written exploration of family and brotherhood.