Past the Shallows tells the story of Miles and Harry, growing up in a remote Tasmanian fishing village with their father. While the book tries to deal with overcoming personal fears, loss of their mother and, more recently, their grandfather and trying to survive their bitter alcoholic father, this book tends to be far too familiar. When I first started reading this book I first thought it reminded me of The Shipping News by Annie Proulx, a glimpse of The Man Without a Face by Isabelle Holland (when talking about George) and then it moved on to even more familiar territory which seems to be covered in just about every book and movie out there.
One of the main problems I had with this book was that I started off liking Miles and Harry but then, as I kept reading. I began to stop caring about them, and in the end I really didn’t care about them at all. There were so many characters that could have been good but didn’t appear in the book to fully understand them. Mr Roberts was one example. I also spend a lot of time trying to work out Miles and Harry’s older brother Joe; I wasn’t sure whether to like him or hate him but in the end I just didn’t care. The stand out character for me in this book wasn’t a person but the ocean, the dark deeps that Harry feared wasn’t necessary a typical character but seemed to have the best personality in the book.
The novel seemed to be more a book of the bonds of brotherhood and family. The two boys are confronted with the painful family secrets while having to deal with their dad. Favel Parrett does a great job of turning the word ‘Dad’ into a chilling and sinister word that makes the actions of the father more impacting to the reader. The lifestyle of this small country town, while different to the one I grew up in brings back so many memories; small country show, show bags and farm animals.
Favel Parrett’s debut novel is at times gut wrenching and shocking but I never went away from this book feeling like I had just read something interesting. It all felt way too familiar and that left me wanting to read something new and maybe unpredictable. I adored the writing style in Past the Shallows, it was almost poetic and it just pushed me through this book with such ease; even in the parts of the book I wasn’t enjoying.
Nominated for the Miles Franklin award (an annual literary prize for the best Australian novel) this year I think the book stands a good chance. While I thought it was a decent read, I never felt emotional towards it; but I’m sure there were tears shed and hearts broken from many readers. I think the lyrical poses are enough to make this one of the better literary works in Australia from last year. Having said that the book is up against some other great novels (which I haven’t read yet) including All That I Am by Anna Funder and The Street Sweeper by Elliot Perlman; so I will be interested to see whether or not this book takes out the top prize.
I will admit that I don’t read nearly enough Australian novels; I’m still trying to play catch up with all the classics and other great literary works; but I do plan to fix that. Maybe when next year’s Miles Franklin short list is announced I will have a better idea of what books are worth reading. But for now I do believe that Past the Shallows is a great debut novel by Favel Parrett. I’m looking forward to seeing what she comes up with next; hopefully another book that is hauntingly beautiful.
This book was read as part of my local National Year of Reading program; I also live tweeted my way through this book and that can be found here; http://sfy.co/pJq