2011 251 p
This is the debut novel for Favel Parrett, who has published several short stories and looks from her photograph to be impossibly young. According to her bio, she is a surfer herself, and this comes through in her writing about the sea which is almost a character in its own right. Hence, I kept sensing resonances with Tim Winton in Breath, and in his exploration of the troubled and troubling people of the marginal coastal towns in The Turning. I felt echoes of Sonia Hartnett as well, in that the story is told from the perspective of children powerless against the cruelties of their elders, and as with many Hartnett books, you know almost from the opening pages that this is not going to end well.
Joe, Miles and Harry are three brothers, living on the south coast of Tasmania. Joe, the eldest, has escaped the family but the two younger brothers still live with their embittered and widowed father, an abalone fisherman. It is an intensely masculine world, and their father is a harsh taskmaster. He forces the middle son, Miles, to work on the boat with a small crew of hardbitten and hardliving men, and he treats his youngest son Harry with a neglect that has an edge of hatred.
Perhaps the failing is in me as a reader, but I found it hard to picture the setting of this novel. My overwhelming impression was one of coldness, both physical and emotional, and a bleak rural poverty, but I didn’t really have a sense of landscape at all- although perhaps the evocativeness of the seascape made up for that.
The voice of the novel is unusual, and I’m not sure if it is completely successful. The writing is expressed in very short sentences, which makes it feel like a Young Adult book. It is told from the boys’ perspective, switching its focus between Miles and Harry, but is not a first person narrative. I wondered if the simple voice was matched with the perspective of the younger boy, but there did not seem to be a clear distinction between the narrative voice when dealing with the older brother. I’m not sure.
But the real bite of this book is in the relationships and its exploration of brotherhood and masculinity. It has a sharp edge, right from the start, and a feeling of impending sadness that builds up over time. It’s certainly an impressive debut.
My rating: 8/10
Sourced from: Yarra Plenty Regional Library
Read because: It was shortlisted for the Miles Franklin. It took such a long time for my reservation to become available that the Miles Franklin is done and dusted! And I’ll add it to my Australian Women Writers Challenge tally as well