At some stage in the future the coming of age of the city I adore will be marked as being the opening of Mona (Museum of Old and New Art), that Disneyland for adults on a suburban peninsula jutting out into the Derwent. All of a sudden my little gem of an island, Tasmania, has become a destination for something other than wilderness and gothic history, particularly so its capital. The eccentric gambler’s cornucopia of delights has been so successful it is now the state’s number one attraction, a must for those into subversive art. Then, a mere few weeks ago, a Hobartian was adjudged the author of the best novel written in the English language for 2013. For a while, for those in the know, this isle in the southern seas has been hitting above its weight culturally, but now that has been certified globally by Lonely Planet magazine. Along with the recognition of the quality of our wines, ales, whiskeys and seafood, as well as other niche tucker, Tasmania has much to hang its hat on.
Are we able to claim Favel Parrett as part of this renaissance? She certainly spent much of her childhood under Kunanyi, with her first two books being set in the city flanking its hills, as well as further south.
The city Parrett takes us to in ‘When the Night Comes’ is yet to transform itself. Back in the last decades of the previous century Hobart was largely a backwater, lagging well behind its mainland counterparts in the major indicators of progress. Isla and her fatherless family unit are escaping troubled times on the big island, hoping for sanctuary in pre-yuppified Battery Point. Here housing is attained and a room rented out to Danish sailors from the ice-breaker Nella Dan – well, one in particular. This ship was a frequent visitor to Hobart, being the means of supply for the research stations down on the frozen continent. The one particular seaman was Bo.
For a young girl struggling with a substantial relocation in her life Bo brings a certain colour to drab days – and to her mother. Through a child’s eyes we are not privy to the exact nature of that relationship, but by the end of the tale there is a sense that the Dane had to make a choice between to islands – his own in the Baltic or this one in another hemisphere.
This very different Hobart is also a major character. This is a town of watery, silvery winters and constant chill – not one of brightly sparkling summers for, at this time of season, the Nella D is facing the challenges of the Great Southern Ocean. The warmest months are the time of re-supply and change-over. The ship is also central to this tale and its controversial fate forms the climax of ‘When the Night Comes’.
This tome has a defter touch than Ms Parrett’s novice offering; but this was very well received by the critics, attaining much gushing acclaim. For me this is a more mature effort, far lighter in tone. The author would seemingly have a springboard for a sound future as a novelist now that the tricky sophomore book has been negotiated.
For this reader there were some magic moments in this book. When a boy from Isla’s school is tragically killed in an accident, we are taken to the following day and the means by which the teachers coped with the situation. Having been through similar in my own career, the paragraphs concerning the heartbreak were truly moving. Paralleling this, there is a death on board the Nella Dan that has a profound effect on Bo. The still ticking dead man’s watch comes into his possession – ‘Shouldn’t a watch be more fragile that a man?’ There is the image of a long time traveller to Antarctica’s bases leaving it all on the Nella, knowing he’ll never see that land of awe, white-out and silence again. Then there were her vivid descriptions of a Macquarie Island that figures so poignantly in the saga.
These are all atmospheric passages from an author with the ‘write stuff’ to carve a solid career going forward – what a cliché; but nonetheless apt. The island she spins yarns of is my island – a place that, like Ms Parrett, can now proceed into the future with some confidence.
As well as Hobart, my home town of Burnie also seemed to be a regular port of call for the Nella Dan. I remember her being there, as do several of my acquaintances. I do wonder why? The ether has not provided an answer.
Ms Parrett’s web-site = http://www.favelparrett.com.au/