Past the Shallows
Hachette Australia (Hachette imprint)
Past the shallows is a moody, gripping book about love and dysfunction. Three brothers – Joe the eldest at nineteen, Miles in the middle and Harry around eight – survive the death of their mother in a car crash, but cannot escape the fury of their father, whose anger is reflected in the moods of the oceans of southern Tasmania, where he is failing to make a living as an abalone fisherman. Joe has left home, and the story concentrates on Miles and Harry. Miles has to work on his father’s boat, while Harry tries to find balance in the normalcy of the everyday, befriending a town outcaste and his dog or staying with his best friend. Miles and Harry try to avoid their father, and look after each other in small protective ways. Neither can see a solution, and Miles feels burdened by the responsibility, and love, for his young brother. The unresolved circumstances and fleeting memories of the crash which killed their mother drive the corrosive family dynamics.
This story is sparsely and simply told, with an unwavering clarity. Parrett’s controlled, unadorned narrative completely immerses the reader in the marginalised and isolating world of the boy’s circumstances: the all-pervasive, random violence of their father, the ocean which both supports them and drains them, and their own strategies for surviving their situation. Harry – despite what he has endured, still innocent, gently thoughtful and sustained by his love of, and trust in, his brothers – is the heart of the story. Harry is almost tangible, so truthfully does Parrett realise his character: he is indeed a remarkable achievement.
Past the shallows is an intensely moving novel, about the importance and sustaining power of love and responsibility, and the tragedies which can unfold in their absence.