There are two different kinds of Tasmanian winters. The first involves wood fires, comfort food, red wine or hot chocolate, snow fluttering down outside and being snug. The second is grey skies, a bitterly cold wind that will permeate every layer of clothing you are wearing, rain that feels like a razor as it hits your exposed skin and a bleakness that never seems to end. ‘Past the Shallows’ is the second sort of winter.
Set around the lives of two young boys struggling with a father who has long since checked out, a mother that is dead and an older brother who is doing is very best not to get stuck in the town, in the life that he seems destined to live ‘Past the Shallows’ is bleak, it is raw, it is visceral. But if I may be permitted to extend the winter metaphor a moment longer, it also has moments in which there is a warmth to snuggle into, a warmth that provides brief moments of hope, of respite from the brutality of the rest of the novel.
Parrett enlivens the reader’s senses throughout the story – you feel the chill of the water, you smell the old cigarette smoke, you taste the extra sweet cups of tea, you can see the beauty of the landscape, including the magical Aurora Australis. On every page, you are physically drawn into they story and as such it is almost impossible not to become emotionally involved in the future of Harry and Miles.
‘Beyond the Shallows’ is told in stages, some present tense, some past tense sections filling in the background of how things became as they are. The most important backstory involves Harry and Miles’ mother. I was greedy to know it all but Parrett only provided periodic glimpses, some clear, some less so. It was fantastic.
The edition I read (it had the cover featured above) includes a section for readers groups. I haven’t started that yet so as not to be influenced in writing this review. Nonetheless, even without the prompts, I certainly have a lot I would love to talk about – and more importantly to hear other people’s perspectives on how they experienced the story. It would almost be worth setting up a group just to get together with others to discuss this book alone.
Despite the bleakness, ‘Beyond the Shadows’ is an incredible read. It is a beautiful story told with skill and class. There are heroes and there are villains but most of all there are people perhaps doing the best they can with what they have.