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by Favel Parrett
Reviewed by Judy Lim

Favel Parrett has written an unequivocally strong debut novel in Past the Shallows. From the opening paragraph she sets the mood for this breathtaking story brilliantly.

Out past the shallows, past the sandy bottomed bays, comes the dark water – black and cold and roaring.

The story is told through Harry's eyes. He is a young boy, age not defined, but probably 8 or 9 years old. Harry lives in a rundown house with his brother Miles, about 13 years old, and their father. We never discover his name, he is simply "Dad"—a bitter, angry and dangerous man—an abalone diver. Their very existence is tenuous. Miles and Harry never know when they will next get food; their house is a dump; their father unpredictable. They live on the edge of society.

Their only connection to the warmth and love they crave is through Joe, their older brother. Joe left his father and brothers to live with his grandfather after he was brutally beaten by his father. But the grandfather has recently died and Joe must leave the house. He is building a boat which will take him away from the town, his father and sadly, his brothers. Harry and Miles will then be alone, with no respite from their father.

The boys' mother died in a car accident some years ago. Harry barely remembers her, but Miles does, and he misses her sorely. Their father is consumed by the events surrounding her death; these secrets torment him, leaving him a brutal drunk with no affection for his children.

Miles and Joe live for surfing. Their time together on the waves is their only relief from a difficult life. Harry, afraid of the deep water, trawls the beach looking for artefacts to add to his collections. But even while the ocean provides them with their only joy, it is also a place of threat and menace. They have heard the story of their uncle's drowning from their father, and they are constantly confronted with death and danger on their father's boat.

The ocean and the breathtaking coastline of Tasmania are virtual characters in this novel. The landscape is moodily drawn and vivid; it is described so intimately that the cold seeps into your bones, the sun dries the salt on your skin and the sound of the waves crashing is as real as if you were there.

Past the Shallows is a book filled with depressing, sad themes, yet Parrett provides the reader with just a hint of optimism. Her simple style and poetic prose allow Harry and Miles to speak in the very real voice of the young boys they are. Their story is gently teased out and the action slowly revealed. This is a book that captures readers from the opening paragraph, and does not let them go until the final sentence.

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