Past the Shallows by Favel Parrett

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Past the Shallows by Favel Parrett

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Category: General Fiction
Rating: 5/5
Reviewer: Ani Johnson
Reviewed by Ani Johnson
Summary: Another example of Australian talent in the form of a novel that's deceptively simple, beautifully written, gut-wrenchingly real and tumbling towards a crescendo you won't forget.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 288 Date: August 2012
Publisher: John Murray
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 978-1848547506

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Harry Curren lives with Miles (one of his brothers) and their widowed father in a small Tasmanian fishing community. Their mother has been killed in a car accident but life goes on even if it's more damaged and disjointed than before. Miles still goes out on his father's fishing boat to ensure their income and Harry spends his time at school, outside amusing himself or being with his other brother, Joe, who, for some reason, lives with their grandfather.

One day, whilst wandering around, Harry comes across George, an elderly neighbour whom his father has forbidden him from approaching. However, far from the scary monster Harry has assumed him to be, George seems nice, kind and interesting. The young boy and the elderly recluse settle into a comfortable, secret friendship but, in so doing, trigger a chain of events that will devastate and destroy.

I'm old enough to remember a time when Australia was spoken of as containing less culture than a pot of yogurt. If that assessment was ever true, it's definitely not so any more, banished in literary terms by the likes of Robert Hughes, Thomas Keneally and, more recently, new talent like M L Stedman and Fiona McGregor. Now Past the Shallows launches yet another star into the firmament as debut novelist Favel Parrett produces something that will gently blow your socks off.

It all starts gradually enough, giving the impression of overly simple. Like calm waves lapping against a sunny shore, it all feels gentle to the point of it posing as YA fiction rather than a strong book for adults. But you continue to read on as the story wraps itself around you and further entices you into Harry's world.

Slowly hints are dropped and you begin to realise that the Currens' domestic life isn't perfect and Harry's father (the black water mentioned in the piece that tops and tails the story) has issues. The sky becomes cloudier and the gentle waves a little stronger. Everything is still ok though as Miles takes care of Harry and old George seems wonderful. He may be quiet but he knows a lot about the family and gives Harry apples that taste of sunshine. However, the sunshine isn't destined to last. Eventually the gentle lapping read becomes a ferocious storm and, by the end, you realise that nothing can be the same again.

Not only are we left stunned, we are in the presence of a clever piece of work. Despite Favel Parrett's simple style, she treats readers as intelligent beings. Some loose ends are explained as Harry's memory of past events clarifies whereas others are left for us to mull over ourselves. This is particularly so when it comes to trying to ascertain George's part in the family's past and reasons for Harry's father's hatred. I thought I knew and then, as I read the last couple of paragraphs of the novel, I desperately wanted to be right. 'Desperately' is a strong word, but used advisedly as Past the Shallows elicits a strong emotional response.

My only one tiny request: a glossary for the Australian words would have been nice. (For the uninitiated, a 'doona' is a duvet and 'show bags' are slightly more elaborate, themed lucky or jamboree bags.) Having said that, there is a strong sense of place; this is definitely Tasmania and not a generic setting so please don't anglicise the Australian, a glossary would be enough.

Ms Parrett has been given a financial award to assist whilst she's writing her second novel. To be honest, if she hadn't received this and if the second novel is going to be half as good as this one, I'd have started a whip round.

I would like to thank John Murray for providing Bookbag with a copy of this book for review.

If you've enjoyed this, then dip into some of the other things that Aussie authors have to offer, e.g. The Light Between Oceans by M L Stedman or Indelible Ink by Fiona McGregor.

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Buy Past the Shallows by Favel Parrett at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Past the Shallows by Favel Parrett at


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