When the Night Comes

Favel Parrett

When the Night Comes
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When the Night Comes

Favel Parrett

Longlisted for the Miles Franklin Literary Award 2015.
Shortlisted for the Australian Book Industry Awards 2015, The Indie Books Awards 2015, ALS Gold Medal 20125 and the ABA’s Booksellers' Choice Award 2015.


Running away from the mainland was supposed to make their lives better. But, for Isla and her brother, their mother’s sadness and the cold, damp greyness of Hobart’s stone streets seeps into everything.

Then, one morning, Isla sees a red ship. That colour lights her day. And when a sailor from the ship befriends her mother, he shares his stories with them all - of Antarctica, his home in Denmark and life onboard. Like the snow white petrels that survive in the harshest coldest place, this lonely girl at the bottom of the world will learn that it is possible to go anywhere, be anything. But she will also find out that it is just as easy to lose it all.

For Isla, those two long summers will change everything.

Favel Parrett delivers an evocative and gently told story about the power fear and kindness have to change lives.

Review

Favel Parrett burst onto the Australian literary scene in 2011 with the novel Past the Shallows, which was shortlisted for the Miles Franklin Award. Parrett was widely praised for her richly detailed writing and ability to create empathic characters. I’m happy to say that Parrett lives up to her reputation with her second novel.

When the Night Comes is narrated by Isla, an isolated girl who, with her younger brother and mother, relocates to Tasmania in the mid-1980s. It’s quickly established that Isla’s mother lacks the ability to meet the physical and emotional needs of her children, and the siblings rely heavily on each other. They support each other through cold, hunger and the traumatic death of one of the brother’s first friends on the island.

Parallel to this story is that of Bo, a Danish man who visits Tasmania when the ship he works on docks in Hobart. Somehow, Bo and Isla’s mother begin a relationship, and Bo’s gentle presence in the household is a highlight for the siblings. He cooks for them, talks to them and acknowledges Isla in a way that she hasn’t been acknowledged before. Isla enjoys Bo’s stories of life on the Nella Dan – the ship that transports people and cargo between Australia and the Antarctic research stations each year.

Through Parrett’s skilful writing, the Nella Dan becomes a character herself. Life on board and the camaraderie between the workers and sailors is beautifully imagined – the story of the journeys, the besetment in ice for seven weeks on one trip, and the ship’s eventual fate is historically accurate.

My only criticism is that the novel lacks narrative drive, therefore isn’t for readers who need a strong plot. When the Night Comes has a dreamlike quality to it, and its strength is in showing how the smaller, subtle events in life can be as profound as the big ones.


Annie Condon is a bookseller at Readings Hawthorn and a convenor of Readings’ Contemporary Book Club.

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