Past The Shallows by Favel Parrett, Orion, $26.99
This is an extraordinary book, part psychological family drama, part mystery, part painful rite of passage, all engulfed in the wild isolation and natural richness of the Tasmanian coast.
Favel Parrett's intimate knowledge and understanding of this rugged heel of the world seeps through every pore of her debut novel, especially her descriptions of the water, so vivid you can feel the chill and rush of the waves, the pull of the undertow and the ominous danger of the deep. Indeed, this sense of menace underpins the novel as the painful world of Harry and his brother Miles unfolds.
The two brothers live with their outwardly brutish father in an ill-kempt cottage on the south-east coast of Tasmania. Their mother has died in a mysterious car accident and their father, who becomes a nasty drunk, is consumed with an explosive combination of grief and anger fuelled by a cruel secret which is clearly destroying him.
While written in the third person, much of the story is filtered through the eyes of young Harry, who though vulnerable and scared — he is petrified of the water and cowers from his father — brings a captivating lightness to this tortured world.
Harry loves to collect things and his willing optimism in the face of a very dark existence wills us to follow him on his journey to be set free. Harry spends much of his time alone exploring, while brother Miles is forced to man his father's boat abalone fishing. It's a tough existence and the family is barely managing to make ends meet.
As the story unfolds, Harry's grandfather dies and when the family starts to go through Grandad's possessions pieces of the past knit together and alarming secrets come to the fore. What were they all doing in the car on that fateful night and was someone else there, too?
Desperately lonely, Harry makes friends with a local dog, only to discover he belongs to George Fuller, the man everyone says is crazy and eats people. Soon George and Harry are friends, too, and at last our lad is receiving the sort of parental love and support we so desperately want him to have.
Yet what happens next is so heart-wrenching it has you fearful for Harry's future as the pace kicks up a notch and hurtles to its tear-jerking denouement. Touching and quite beautiful, Favel Parrett is a fresh and vital new voice in Australian fiction.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Debut novelist Favel Parrett, 36, always wanted to be a writer, but never thought it would be possible. She studied creative writing, invested in courses, and the result is Past The Shallows, which took her three years to write.
Born in Victoria, Favel moved to Hobart when she was eight. "The south coast of Tasmania had a huge influence on me when I was young. It is isolated and wild – a place I will never forget," she says.
"The story grew out of my memories and feeling for that place," she says. Inspiration for the book's protagonist came from her own family. "
Although Harry is not totally based on my brother, the way I feel about my brother is there in the writing," Favel says. "One of the worst things that could have happened to me when I was a child would have been losing my brother. We are very close."
Favel currently lives in Melbourne with her partner, David, and two dogs, Dougal and Bear. She is working on a new book, set in Hobart, about a girl finding her way in a new town that seems ancient and cold, and full of ghosts.
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