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Book Review: Past the Shallows by Favel Parrett

past the shallows 186x300 Book Review: Past the Shallows by Favel Parrett


The cover of Favel Parretts debut is understated yet quietly eerie: theres a sense of something canted and off-kilter, of loss and confusion. And its apt, for this laconic little read is in equal parts challengingly compelling and surprisingly sympathetic from start to finish.

Harry and Miles live with their widower father off the south-east coast of Tasmania in a town that time seems to have passed by. Their father is an abalone diver, a trade that is increasingly hard to succeed in due to overfishing and illegal poaching, and money is tight. Miles spends his days out on the boat with his father and the boorish Jeff, while Harry remains home alone, seeking out activities to fill his days. There is a third brother, too: Joe, who skipped town in order to escape the futureless life that would have been his had he stayed. Though this means that Miles and Harry are left in the hands of their negligent and oft-abusive father, neither judges him. As Miles'observes, the boys who stay in town leave school at fifteen to work in the abalone canneries, becoming hard and worn before their time. There is nothing else. Or there isas we see in the case of the one townsman who has escaped the cycle by embracing modernity rather than clutching to the insularity so key to this towns identitybut doing so is in effect renouncing ones place among ones peers.

From the moment the novel opens theres a sense of going under, and oh, how it tugs and pulls and terrifies. We look on as the boys play by the ocean, something that is as ominous as it is beautiful, and which can tear away everything from beneath you in a moment. And as the boys hunt for sharks eggs and other portentous items, we know from the outset that this is exactly what will happen: as the boys pasts and presents slowly unfold, theres the constant, all-pervading sense of being dragged into the very depths of loss and despair.

The boys fathers already volatile temperament is inflamed by the appearance of Fisheries representatives who want to close down his operations, and by Harrys new friendship with a local hermit, a horrifically disfigured man, who, one suspects, may have a secondary identity that is key to the mystery surrounding the boys mothers death. Theres a constant battle of pulling back and drawing in, almost like the crashing of the waves: the boys father has harsh, violent episodes that he tries to counteract with episodes of generosity, but the latter are so awkward and confused that his sons do not know how to respond. In one scene, when the father comes home with a package of fish and chips, Miles wonders whether the sole piece of grilled fish is for him, as his father knows that he prefers grilledbut surely, given the expense, it cant be? he wonders.

But there are bright moments against the stormy, briny feel of the rest of the book. Just as Miles and Harry emerge relatively unscathed from a boating accident (one needs to learn how to ride the waves in order to survive, Miles muses), they are incredibly tenacious when it comes to managing the cards they have been dealt. Harry is a philanthropist by nature, giving and sharing at every opportunity (even Bertie Beetle showbags!), and Miles protects his younger brother as best as he can, turning even the most mundanepeeling potatoes using a blunt knife so that they are palatable to his brotherinto something meaningful.

The beauty of the novel is as much in whats not told as what is: Parrett paints her characters and her setting with the most taciturn of approaches, her authorial brush scarcely touching the page unless it has to. The result, which recalls Cate Kennedy and, yes, Tim Winton, is a series of vignettes that haunt and allude, with the effect simultaneously one of isolation and stillness; there is at all times a sense of a existence that is teetering on the brink and entirely at the mercy of the elements. Theres an inexorability to the conclusion, of course, but the journey is such that youll only let out your breath at the very last page.

Rating: star Book Review: Past the Shallows by Favel Parrettstar Book Review: Past the Shallows by Favel Parrettstar Book Review: Past the Shallows by Favel Parrettstar Book Review: Past the Shallows by Favel Parretthalfstar Book Review: Past the Shallows by Favel Parrett (superb)

With thanks to Hachette Australia for the review copy

Support Read in a Single Sitting by purchasing Past the Shallows'from Booktopia


  1. I have seen this around and have it on my TBR list but since you list it as superb I will have to bump it up the list a great review!

  2. Stephanie /

    Thanks, Shelleyrae :) Ive had a run of great books recently! Im writing another rave review as we speak!

  3. I really enjoyed this novel too Stephanie. Great review :-)

    • Stephanie /

      Thanks for your lovely words, Jayne :) I think this one has been almost universally enjoyed!

  4. While I think this is a great book, I didnt think it was as great as you did. But that is the joys of books and reviews.

    Do you think this book has a good chance for the Miles Franklin?

  5. Stephanie /

    Hmm, not sure, Michael. I dont think Ive read any of the other contenders, so Im not really in a position to be able to say. But I cant help wonder that given the debate in the media whether young and female authors will be given a little more weight this year than in the past

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