Friday, 29 August 2014 / 2 Comments

When the Night Comes by Favel Parrett

This review also appears on Reading Lark

Title: When the Night Comes
Author: Favel Parrett
Publisher: Hachette Australia
Source: Review copy courtesy of the publisher via Netgalley.

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.

When the Night Comes is the second novel from Australian author Favel Parrett. Set primarily in Tasmania, it tells the story of Isla, a young girl isolated by sadness and loneliness as she transitions from primary school to secondary school. Isla has moved from the mainland following the breakdown of her parents’ marriage, and she finds the landscape bleak and oppressive. It is only the coming of the ice breaker Nella Dan, and with it the Danish sailor Bo, that brings light and happiness to her life.

 This is also the story of Bo, his relationship with the sea, and with his deceased father, and the ship, Nella Dan. The Nella Dan makes the run from Hobart to Australia’s Antarctic expedition site, ferrying scientists and supplies between the two. The Nella Dan is almost a character in itself, and the fictional events of the story are set alongside the real life events that saw the ship removed from service in 1987. If you don’t know the story (and I didn’t), I’d advise holding off until after you’ve read the book.

When the Night Comes is beautifully written. The story is not entirely chronological, switching back and forth between Isla and Bo and covering the final two summers of Nella Dan’s run. The grey and miserable streets of Hobart contrast strongly with the bright red paint of the ship, the shining white ice sheets of Antarctica and the roiling waves of the Southern Ocean. Isla and Bo are both lonely and isolated in their own ways, but Bo’s stories of the sea give Isla hope and something to aim towards.

This is not a fast paced page turner that will compel you to finish it in one sitting, rather it is a slow burner that will stay with you long after you turn the last page. The use of Isla as a somewhat naïve narrator, along with the disjointed narrative, leaves us much to infer. While this could have been frustrating, the author has handled the story so beautifully that it is a pleasure to read. When The Night Comes is beautiful and sad, but ultimately life-affirming.

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