“Out past the shallows, past the sandy-bottomed bays, comes the dark water – black and cold and roaring. Rolling out the invisible paths.”
This was the second book I saved to read on the trip back home to my home state. Like The Survivors, Past the Shallows is also set on the Tasmanian coast, and also about the echoes of a tragedy. But we’re not in a pleasant tourist-oriented town among flawed but loving family and friends. We’re with Harry and Miles, out past the shallows, struggling to survive.
Harry is the youngest, about nine or ten, a kind-hearted curious boy who struggles to remember his mother and is neglected by his damaged father. Harry is afraid of the ocean and suffers from sea sickness, which shields him from involvement in his father’s failing abalone fishing endeavours.
Miles is older, thirteen or fourteen. Old enough to remember better times, but the memory of the car crash that killed his mother eludes him. Miles is old enough to be forced out on the boat with dad and his mean sidekick Jeff, and can’t see an escape from a future under the dark water as an abalone diver. Miles is also old enough for his father to take out his anger on, but not old enough to get away like brother Joe.
Past the Shallows is a beautifully brutal book. Point of view chapters from Harry and Miles immerse us in the day to day of their lives, the joys of meeting a friendly dog or being lifted above the waves on a surfboard adding some light to the ambient shade. Their voices ring true, Harry’s childish innocence and Miles’ budding maturity.
This book made me cry, as I read the last pages while my plane taxied in to the airport. It was never going to end well. I felt like Aunty Jean, Stuart’s Mum, or George – watching, dreading, but what could I do? Maybe one of them should have done something.