|Publisher:||Washington Square Press|
|Product dimensions:||5.30(w) x 8.20(h) x 0.80(d)|
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
Past the Shallows
Miles got in the dinghy with the men, with Martin and Jeff and Dad, and he didn’t speak. No one spoke on the way out to the boat. He hadn’t been able to eat his toast at home in the early darkness, and now just at dawn he wished he had.
His stomach was empty, this first day.
First day of school holidays. First day he must man the boat alone while the men go down. Old enough now, he must take his place. Just like his brother before him, he must fill the gap Uncle Nick left.
Because the bank owned the boat now. Because the bank owned everything.
The boat chugged and rattled its way through the heads, and Miles felt the channel grab hold, pull on her hard. She was weak, the Lady Ida, she seemed old now, and the crossing was slow. She plowed through the deepest part of the channel leaving a wide wake of ridges behind, and Miles knew this was where it would have happened. Where Uncle Nick would have been dragged out alone in the dark where the rip ran strongest.
And they never found him.
Not one bit.
Not his boots.
Not his bones.
Just the dinghy floating loose, empty and washed clean.
Nobody talked about it now, but back then Dad talked about it. He said Uncle Nick must have gone out to check the mooring. He said he’d never forgive himself.
The boat was almost new, anchored out at the mouth of the bay because the swell was right up—a big winter swell, and all the boats were out there. But Nick wouldn’t leave it alone. He wouldn’t stop worrying about the boat. Dad said he went on and on about it at the pub and in the end Dad told him to go and check the damn thing. To go and check it or just shut up about it.
And Miles knew exactly how dark it was that night, the sky blacked out by cloud so thick that nothing came through—no stars or moon or anything. Uncle Nick wouldn’t have been able to see the dinghy or the land or even his own hand in front of his face.
And everyone forgot about him out there because that was the night of the crash.
That was the night when everything changed.
Martin touched his shoulder, stood close.
“It’ll be all right,” he said.
Dad and Jeff were in the cabin and Jeff was staring at him again so Miles looked away. He slipped his yellow windbreaker over his sweater. Dad didn’t have any small enough for him, so he had to wear a man’s size and it was baggy, hung way down past his hands. It was almost better not to wear one at all. He’d get soaked anyway. The only part of him that would stay warm was his head under the tight wool watch cap that made his scalp itch.
He rolled up the sleeves, he put on his gloves.
Bruny was coming clear in the new light.
Miles watched the surface change color—come to life. And even though they were still out deep, away from land, there were places where the water rose like it was climbing a hill, places where the water was angry. And it wasn’t the back of a wave. It wasn’t a peak in the swell. It was the current surging into rocks that hid below, rocks that you couldn’t see even when the tide was low. And if you didn’t know what the rise in water meant, you would never guess those rocks were there. The Hazards. They were called the Hazards of Bruny.
They were all around here, out deep. Rocks that weren’t attached to land but were big enough on their own to disturb the water—to change its path. And maybe they had been islands once, those rocks. Small islands or maybe even bigger ones before they got worn away. Worn by the water and by the wind and the rain until they were gone from sight. And only the foundations remained, hidden and lost under the sea.
There were things that no one could teach you—things about the water. You just knew them or you didn’t and no one could tell you how to read it. How to feel it.
Miles knew the water. He could feel it. And he knew not to trust it.
Reading Group Guide
This reading group guide for Past the Shallows includes discussion questions your book club. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.
Topics & Questions for Discussion
1. Aunty Jean is the only female role model the boys have left. She is at times cruel and then caring toward them. Do you consider her a good person? Do you have any sympathy for her? What references within the text have led you to this opinion?
2. Do you think George Fuller sees Harry as just another puppy to rescue? Or does he genuinely care for Harry? There are a few other works of literature that use an ostracized figure in the community to enhance our understanding of the main characters. Why do you think this can be a useful plot device, and do you think it’s effective here?
3. This is a small community where everyone knows who everyone is, as we can see from Mr. Roberts, George and Mrs. Martin in the store. In light of this, why do you think the boys’ home life is allowed to continue? What is the role of men in this community?
4. There are few female figures in Harry’s and Miles’s lives. Is there any evidence of what they think about women?
5. What would be some of the challenges of living here?
6. How challenging would it be to be a woman in this community?
7. Jeff exhibits increasingly dangerous and bullying behavior: the staring, shooting the shark and risking hitting Miles, forcing Harry to drink. Does he bring about Dad’s worst behavior to his sons? Or do you think Dad allows Jeff free rein to reveal his ugly nature? Do you have any sympathy for Dad? What is the evidence within the text that formed your opinion?
8. “Harry stood there looking at the tooth in his hands, and he looked so young and small, like no time had ever passed by since he was the baby in the room and Joe had told Miles to be nice to him and help Mum out. And Miles had thought he wouldn’t like it. But Harry had a way about him. A way that made you promise to take care of him.” (page 187)
Both Joe and Miles are forced to take on responsibility for their brothers, yet they do it quite differently. Joe moved out with Granddad and left the other two behind with their dad when he was thirteen and then ultimately leaves the two of them supposedly forever. Miles, however, stays on even after he is beaten by his father. Why do you think they approach the responsibility so differently?
9. Miles and Harry share an unbreakable bond. Discuss their different reactions to Joe leaving.
10. Joe is also part of this family unit. Why do you think he is painted as one of the family, but also an outsider? He used to work on the boat, now doesn’t. He moved to live with his grandfather. Why do you think Favel Parrett chose not to include point of view from Joe? What effect does this have on the novel? What do you imagine his story would have been?
11. The water throughout the novel is a metaphor for Dad. Do you agree or not, and what from the text made you think this way? Harry fears the water and Miles both loves and hates it. Is there anything within the book that shows us how this relates to the boys’ relationship with Dad?
12. “There was something coming.
“Miles had felt it in the water. Seen it. Swell coming in steady, the wind right on it, pushing. It was ground swell. Brand new and full of punch—days away from its peak.” (page 175)
How does the Tasmanian landscape speak for the characters’ emotions within the text? Are there other references to nature within the book that you found moving? Discuss.
13. Discuss the significance of the shark tooth necklace.
14. Memory plays a big part in this novel. Discuss the way in which memories are invoked in Past the Shallows and what part they play in the story.
15. The gradual piecing together of Miles’s memories about his mother and the night of the accident have a sense of fantasy or dreamlike state about them. Do you think these events happened chronologically? What makes you think that? Did they reveal events the way you’d imagined? What other possibilities had you anticipated?
16. Why do you think Joe wasn’t in the car?
17. Do you think Harry isn’t Dad’s son, and Miles and Joe are? Is it clear-cut? What references within the text have given you that impression?
18. It’s obviously a point of rage for Dad. Do you have any sympathy for him? How did you feel when you learned through Joe that he’d disappeared and that there would be no direct confrontation or punishment for his acts? Was this a satisfactory ending for you? Why/why not?
19. “Harry’s feet hardly seemed to touch the ground as he followed Jake, and it was easy to run. He ran through the trees, reached out, and he could almost touch Jake’s red fur. George was up ahead. George, waving from the top of the hill.
“And when Harry got there, he could see it all.
“The land just as it had been forever—untouched.” (page 211)
Do you believe this is a utopian afterlife image from Harry after death? Or do you think this is a fragment of unconscious dreaming from Miles? How did you reach this conclusion? Are there any other references within the text that have influenced this idea?
20. Harry and Miles’s story is bookended by the evocative passage: “Out past the shallows, past the sandybottomed bays, comes the dark water—black and cold and roaring. Rolling out the invisible paths . . .” What effect did the imagery and repetition have on you going into the beginning of the story? And on leaving the story?
21. Although very evocative of the Tasmanian coast, do you think that the story transcends borders, and would be just as thought-provoking to a reader in another country?
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Past The Shallows is the first novel by award-winning Australian author, Favel Parrett. Since his Mum died in a car accident, Harry Curren, now almost nine years old, lives with his Dad and his older brother, Miles, on coastal southern Tasmania. Joe’s old enough to live on his own in Grandad’s house. It’s school holidays, and Harry would like to spend time with his brothers, even wander the beach when they go for a surf, but after Uncle Nick drowned, Dad makes Miles go on the boat with him and Jeff and Martin, not something Miles enjoys. Living with Dad is no picnic: his moods are unpredictable, and when he’s angry, Steven Curren can be violent, so the boys try to tread lightly. There’s Aunty Jean who does stuff for them, but she’s nothing like her sister. And Harry’s best friend Stuart, but he’s not always at the caravan. One day, though, he follows a friendly little kelpie through the bush to a shack, before realising that’s where George Fuller lives. Everyone stays away from George, Harry’s not sure why. Parrett gives the reader a story that’s spare on detail, but the shocking truth of what happened back then is gradually revealed. Her descriptive prose is beautiful, in particular her renderings of the sea and surfing. The comparisons with Tim Winton’s work are certainly valid. The relationship between the three brothers is heartening and Harry is impossible not to love, to care about, to feel for. Moving and heart-breaking, this is an amazing debut novel.