Parrett’s debut novel is as beautiful and as raw as the wild coast of Tasmania’s south. It is very simple but in this simplicity there is great power, where what is not said wreaks its quiet devastation on both the reader and the two little boys who we follow through the pages. These two boys, Miles and Harry, are what carry the book, and Parrett explores their bond with writing that is affectionate and touching and ultimately heartbreaking by the novel’s conclusion.
Three brothers, Joe, Miles and Harry, are growing up in one of the isolated coastal towns Tasmania does so well. Joe, almost out of his teens and old enough to move out of home, is restless and want to move away, to get on with his life, to find something more. Miles feels the stirrings of similar feelings but is stuck looking after the youngest brother Harry, a slightly odd but endearing little boy who everyone seems to love – everyone except his own father. Their father, an abalone diver, is a bitter man, warped by devastating secrets and the death of his wife years earlier. The boys must learn to watch out for his cruel tempers but above all, watch out for each other.
This is basically what Past the Shallows is about – the day to day lives of these boys, the frustration of small-town life, the joy of small treasures – good surf; warm Milo; the cold, loving nose of a kelpie pup pressed into your palm. Finding twenty dollars at the Show and spending it all on lollies. Snuggling under the doona right next to a warm fire. Having a big brother who you love and adore and who you feel safe with. The childhood of these two boys is told with great understanding and warmth and so when we cast our adult eye upon their world and see all the harsh, stark realities of it, and of this fractured family unit, we cannot help but feel and fear for them.
I appreciated Parrett's gentle descriptions of the Tasmanian landscape and weather and her distinctive writing style - it is unassuming and lacks trickery but is still an absolute pleasure to read. This is a book that will sink into your skin and sweep you away. It has great emotional pull and a distinctive voice. It broke my heart a little bit. You will not forget Miles, Joe and Harry.
*This review also originally published at CAE Book Groups in a shortened format