Book review: When The Night Comes

Saturday, October 18, 2014 Permalink

I’m very late to the Favel Parrett party. In fact, this book had been out two months before I finally requested a copy. Everyone had been so effusive in their praise I think I worried that I’d struggle and have that sense of shame you feel when you’re unable to appreciate true beauty.

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I need not have worried because I fell in love with this book. I had no idea what to expect though – like many – I’m intrigued by the Antarctic.

Although not (even vaguely) a nature buff  I was inexplicably interested in the plight of the Akademik Shokalskiy stuck in the Antarctic ice for two weeks last Christmas (2013-14).

Antarctica, the blue grey ice and the sea are all vibrant characters in this novel by Parrett. They’re as much the story as the men on board the MV Nella Dan and the young displaced family starting a new life on ‘an island in the middle of the sea’.

Twelve-year old Isla, her brother and mother have travelled to Tasmania following her parents’ separation. Because snippets of her father’s violence are revealed by young Isla we can only imagine what transpired before her mother finally took the children and left – arriving at a boarding house in Hobart almost penniless. The family’s early days in their new world seem bleak and Isla’s mother, somewhat distant.

Things change however, when Bo appears on the scene. Isla doesn’t know (or share) where her mother met him, but their home becomes his when the the MV Nella Dan is docked in Hobart.

Interestingly – though unaware of the fact – Bo and Isla first see each other as the ship arrives in Hobart. Bo’s on deck and Isla’s waiting for her school ferry. When the man aboard the giant red ship passing in the distance waved, Isla was astounded.

Someone could see me.

We learn of the ship’s adventures (and that of its crew) via second cook Bo, a second-generation Danish seaman.

Bo and Isla narrate alternate chapters through the novel – some parts of their lives and intersecting, others separate.

I read somewhere that the author had penned a number of short stories which came together to form When The Night Comes. That makes sense as the book is almost a series of anecdotes – mostly – in chronological order. It’s a risk which could backfire because of a lack of continuity, but it works beautifully – predominantly because of the beautiful prose.

I also read a review in which someone criticised the language – describing some of the sentences are awkward and repetitive. To me Parrett’s work is lyrical. It’s easy to read. It did take a little getting used to but the writing reeled me in and kept me entranced until the words stopped.

For me, this book is essentially about people coming into our lives at certain times and the impact they have. For Bo, it’s Isla and her family. He recognises a kindred spirit in Isla whose passion and inquisitiveness re-energise Bo when he most needs it. Importantly Isla (and her family) offer him the normality, comfort and contentment he desires.

“I wish that I could stay.”

His words went in. They went in somewhere deep and settled down inside of me, but I did not know then that he meant forever. That he would like to stay and live with us forever.

I did not know that then.

For Isla it’s her physics teacher who teaches her that anything is possible and offers her some insight into humanity; and it’s Bo.

All the things he told me, I wanted more than anything.

I understand that Favel Parrett’s first novel, Past the Shallows, was also well-received so I’ll be seeking that out next.

When the Night Comes was released by Hachette in August 2014.

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