Past the Shallows is set in a fisherman’s town along the south coast of Tasmania. It tells the story of three boys growing up under the tyrannical rule of their father, who is bitter and suffers from mood swings. Joe, the oldest brother, is nineteen and about to abandon his family and try to start a better life of his own. Miles, the middle brother, tries to watch out for his youngest brother, but also has to help his father on the fishing boat. Harry is the youngest of the family – he is scared of the water and often too young to understand what is going on. Sadly, he also seems to be the son his father reacts most strongly to.
Told through the alternating viewpoints of Miles and Harry, Past the Shallows manages to capture the devastation and pain of growing up with a parent who does nothing to hide his bitterness from his children. One of the strengths of this novel is that it shows you devastation of such a large family drama without reverting to the overtly dramatic. Rather, the writing is quiet and pondering, and the story unfolds in beautifully crafted episodes, allowing you glimpses of the larger stories and problems surrounding family life for Miles and Harry.
But what most captured my heart about Past the Shallows was Harry himself. Harry is young, and with that comes a little bit of naivety, or perhaps innocence is the better word? He does not remember much of his mother’s death, and he does not always understand the mechanisms of family life and caring (or the lack thereof) going on around him. But he comes across as incredibly sweet. In all his hunger and loneliness, when he finds some money on the ground he will go out of his way to buy gifts for most of the people he knows. And so he finds beauty in the little things, and in the little friendships he finds for himself. There is something so touching about reading about a boy, knowing what he lives through because of his own and Miles’ stories, and yet having him act the way he does. It is not that I will not remember Miles, or that I do not admire and feel for him, because I started to more and more during my reading of the story (those who have read Past the Shallows will know what I am referring to). But it was Harry – little sweet Harry – who from the very first gave this story heart.
I know I am full of praise for Past the Shallows. I truly believe it to be a very accomplished and touching book. Nevertheless, it did not work for me instantly. There were things pulling me in, Harry was making me smile from the start, but I did not care deeply about the first half of the story. However, once I reached that halfway point the whole book took a bit of a turn and I couldn’t not care. Past the Shallows is Parrett’s first novel, and I know it sounds stereotypical in a Review-inator sense, but I am truly looking forward to seeing what Parrett will write next.
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