There are similarities to her new novel, When the Night Comes, although I was – sadly – not left with the same magic as her debut novel.
Her narration remains the hero here. Parrett’s style is quiet, dignified and restrained. She excels is creating the inner lives of ordinary people, promoting the beauty of perspectives not often explored in literature. But unlike Past the Shallows, When the Night Comes lacks a sense of direction. Little propels the plot – it is simply a study of two connected voices, both experiencing isolation.
Isla is a young girl who is new to Hobart with her mother and brother. There are hints to a traumatic past and an abusive father, but their mother is one of the great silences in this story. Strangely, the other narrative perspective is that of Bo, a Danish cook on the great ship Nella Dan and, the reader assumes, the boyfriend of Isla’s mother.
When Bo stays with Isla’s family we experience some poignant moments between the two remote characters and Parrett continues to parallel their individual experiences when Bo’s work takes him out to Antarctica.
The scenes in Antarctica are beautifully drawn – Parrett received an Antarctic Arts Fellowship to experience this first-hand. Her sense of place continues to be a strength – and the scenes in Hobart and descriptions of the physical environment in general are quite vivid.
There is some extraordinary writing and some fine moments here, but it lacks the power of her first novel. It will be interesting to see what she learns for her third.