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‘When the Night Comes’ by Favel Parrett ****

Favel Parrett is an Australian author whom I have heard a lot of praise about of late, but she still seems to be relatively under the radar in the United Kingdom.  She has been called ‘a fresh and vital voice in Australian fiction’ (The Australian Women’s Weekly), and a ‘strong voice’ in the field of Australian literature (The Canberra Times).  I have been eager to read many more works set in Australia, and by authors who live there, since I visited in 2015-2016.  Thankfully my local library had a copy of Parrett’s When the Night Comes, which was first published in 2014.

9781848548565When the Night Comes is described as ‘a powerful and haunting novel set on the very edge of the world.’  Told by two protagonists, the novel takes place in Tasmania and Antarctica between 1986 and 1987.  We meet a young girl named Isla, who has moved to a relatively isolated community with her mother and younger brother, and a ‘modern viking’ named Bo, who comes from Copenhagen and is working as a cook on a ship called the MS Nella Dan.  The voyage takes him to Antarctica, as the scientists on his ship have been tasked with surveying krill and zooplankton, as well as conducting a survey of Heard Island.   Bo gives Isla ‘the gift of stillness, of watching birds…  She shows him what is missing in his life.’  I am drawn to books in which quite different protagonists are drawn together, and was suitably intrigued by what When the Night Comes promised.

The novel opens with Isla and her family journeying to their new home on the island of Tasmania.  She recounts the choppy, difficult crossing: ‘I must have fallen asleep because when I woke the whole world was rocking and shaking and I was rolling in my bed.  Not just from side to side, but up and down as well.’  She goes on to comment: ‘It was only the ship that was keeping us safe.  Only thin layers of steel and an engine pumping away in the dark were keeping us above the water, which would gladly swallow us all up like we had never ever been.’

In this descriptive prose, which carries on throughout the novel, Parrett proves that she is great at creating atmosphere.  Of the relatively deprived place which Isla and her family move to, she writes, for instance: ‘Battery Point, where the houses were old and solid like tombstones, and there were never any people on the streets or in the front gardens.  There were never any people anywhere.  Just my brother and me, walking fast, always looking behind us.’

Searching for belonging is a constant thread in this novel.  In Bo’s narrative, Parrett writes: ‘Tonight, all these weeks in, I just wanted to step onto the solid frozen earth and say, I am here.  Only a cook, but here all the same.’  I really admired the way in which Parrett uses loneliness and belonging to pull both of her protagonists together, as well as the way in which she causes their friendship, and in turn their confidence, to grow.  Isla comments: ‘But silence was easy with Bo.  It was not lonely and I could think.  I could think about the sky and about the light and how things changed.  I could stop holding myself so very tightly.’

When the Night Comes is a relatively quiet read, but it is one which I found highly engaging.  The characters are realistic, and Parrett keeps at the forefront of her novel their concerns and their sadnesses.  Her descriptions throughout are lovely, and she maintains believable narrative voices for both of her lead characters.  The novel is philosophical at times, and really causes one to think about what it really means to exist.  Things do happen as the novel goes on, but the focus, really, is upon the protagonists, and how various events affect them.

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Book List: Australian Literature

I have been meaning to pick up a lot more Australian authors since I spent some time in Sydney in 2015-2016.  I found a great list (here) on Goodreads of Best Modern Australian Literature, and thought that I would pick out ten books which really pique my interest, and which I would like to get to soon.

 

1. On the Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta 2999475
‘Taylor is leader of the boarders at the Jellicoe School. She has to keep the upper hand in the territory wars and deal with Jonah Griggs—the enigmatic leader of the cadets, and someone she thought she would never see again.  And now Hannah, the person Taylor had come to rely on, has disappeared. Taylor’s only clue is a manuscript about five kids who lived in Jellicoe eighteen years ago. She needs to find out more, but this means confronting her own story, making sense of her strange, recurring dream, and finding her mother—who abandoned her on the Jellicoe Road.  The moving, joyous and brilliantly compelling new novel from the best-selling, multi-award-winning author of Looking for Alibrandi and Saving Francesca.’

 

142362. Gould’s Book of Fish by Richard Flanagan
‘Once upon a time that was called 1828, before all the living things on the land and the fishes in the sea were destroyed, there was a man named William Buelow Gould, a convict in Van Dieman’s Land who fell in love with a black woman and discovered too late that to love is not safe. Silly Billy Gould, invader of Australia, liar, murderer, forger, fantasist, condemned to live in the most brutal penal colony in the British Empire, and there ordered to paint a book of fish. Once upon a time, miraculous things happened…’

 

3. Riders in the Chariot by Patrick White 827327
‘Patrick White’s brilliant 1961 novel, set in an Australian suburb, intertwines four deeply different lives. An Aborigine artist, a Holocaust survivor, a beatific washerwoman, and a childlike heiress are each blessed—and stricken—with visionary experiences that may or may not allow them to transcend the machinations of their fellow men. Tender and lacerating, pure and profane, subtle and sweeping, Riders in the Chariot is one of the Nobel Prize winner’s boldest books.’

 

127384. The Transit of Venus by Shirley Hazzard
‘Caro, gallant and adventurous, is one of two Australian sisters who have come to post-war England to seek their fortunes. Courted long and hopelessly by young scientist, Ted Tice, she is to find that love brings passion, sorrow, betrayal and finally hope. The milder Grace seeks fulfilment in an apparently happy marriage. But as the decades pass and the characters weave in and out of each other’s lives, love, death and two slow-burning secrets wait in ambush for them.’

 

5. The Boat by Nam Le 2599523
‘A stunningly inventive, deeply moving fiction debut: stories that take us from the slums of Colombia to the streets of Tehran; from New York City to Iowa City; from a tiny fishing village in Australia to a foundering vessel in the South China Sea, in a masterly display of literary virtuosity and feeling.  In the magnificent opening story, “Love and Honor and Pity and Pride and Compassion and Sacrifice,” a young writer is urged by his friends to mine his father’s experiences in Vietnam–and what seems at first a satire of turning one’s life into literary commerce becomes a transcendent exploration of homeland, and the ties between father and son. “Cartagena” provides a visceral glimpse of life in Colombia as it enters the mind of a fourteen-year-old hit man facing the ultimate test. In “Meeting Elise,” an aging New York painter mourns his body’s decline as he prepares to meet his daughter on the eve of her Carnegie Hall debut. And with graceful symmetry, the final, title story returns to Vietnam, to a fishing trawler crowded with refugees, where a young woman’s bond with a mother and her small son forces both women to a shattering decision.  Brilliant, daring, and demonstrating a jaw-dropping versatility of voice and point of view, “The Boat” is an extraordinary work of fiction that takes us to the heart of what it means to be human, and announces a writer of astonishing gifts.’

 

56358496. To the Islands by Randolph Stow
‘A work of mesmerising power, against a background of black-white fear and violence, To The Islands journeys towards the strange country of one man’s soul. Set in the desolate outback landscape of Australia’s north-west, the novel tracks the last days of a worn-out Anglican missionary. Fleeing his mission after an agonising confrontation, he immerses himself in the wilderness, searching for the islands of death and mystery.’

 

7. Playing Beatie Bow by Ruth Park 17179385
‘The game is called Beatie Bow and the children play it for the thrill of scaring themselves. But when Abigail is drawn in, the game is quickly transformed into an extraordinary, sometimes horrifying, adventure as she finds herself transported to a place that is foreign yet strangely familiar . . .’

 

206003748. Tirra Lirra by the River by Jessica Anderson
One of Australia’s most celebrated novels: one woman’s journey from Australia to London.  Nora Porteous, a witty, ambitious woman from Brisbane, returns to her childhood home at age seventy. Her life has taken her from a failed marriage in Sydney to freedom in London; she forged a modest career as a seamstress and lived with two dear friends through the happiest years of her adult life.  At home, the neighborhood children she remembers have grown into compassionate adults. They help to nurse her back from pneumonia, and slowly let her in on the dark secrets of the neighborhood in the years that have lapsed.  With grace and humor, Nora recounts her desire to escape, the way her marriage went wrong, the vanity that drove her to get a facelift, and one romantic sea voyage that has kept her afloat during her dark years. Her memory is imperfect, but the strength and resilience she shows over the years is nothing short of extraordinary. A book about the sweetness of escape, and the mix of pain and acceptance that comes with returning home.’

 

9. Past the Shallows by Favel Parrett 10762662
‘Brothers Joe, Harry and Miles live with their father, an abalone fisherman, on the south-east coast of Tasmania. Everyday their dad battles the unpredictable ocean to make a living. He is a hard man, a bitter drinker who harbours a devastating secret that is destroying him. Unlike Joe, Harry and Miles are too young to leave home and so are forced to live under the dark cloud of their father’s mood, trying to stay as invisible as possible whenever he is home. Harry, the youngest, is the most vulnerable and it seems he bears the brunt of his father’s anger…’

 

697478510. The Children by Charlotte Wood
‘When their father is critically injured, foreign correspondent Mandy and her siblings return home, bringing with them the remnants and patterns of childhood. Mandy has lived away from the country for many years. Her head is filled with images of terror and war, and her homecoming to the quiet country town – not to mention her family and marriage – only heightens her disconnection from ordinary life.  Cathy, her younger sister, has stayed in regular contact with her parents, trying also to keep tabs on her brother Stephen who, for reasons nobody understands, has held himself apart from the family for years. In the intensive care unit the children sit, trapped between their bewildered mother and one another; between old wounds and forgiveness, struggling to connect with their emotions, their past and each other. But as they wait and watch over their father, there’s someone else watching too: a young wardsman, Tony, who’s been waiting for Mandy to come home. As he insinuates himself into the family, the pressure, and the threat, intensify and build to a climax of devastating force.  This acutely observed novel exposes the tenacious grip of childhood, the way siblings seem to grow apart but never do, and explores the price paid for bearing witness to the suffering of others – whether far away or uncomfortably close to home.’

 

Have you read any of these?  Which titles are you interested in?  What is your favourite piece of Australian literature?

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