Book Review: When The Night Comes, by Favel Parrett

Available in bookstores nationwide.

Australian author Favel Parrett was much acclaimed for her debut novel Past the cv_when_the_night_comesShallows, which was shortlisted for the Miles Franklin Award. In her second novel, When the Night Comes, Parrett describes the life of a lonely girl, Isla, living in Hobart with her brother and mother after they’ve run away from the mainland, whose lives are brightened up by the arrival of Bo, a Danish cook on board the Antarctic supply ship Nella Dan.

There’s something warm and comforting about When the Night Comes. Perhaps it’s the simple but evocative prose, or the face that the story is told largely from young Isla’s point of view, but the harsh or sad things that happen in the novel are somehow washed away. Instead, what you remember of the novel are the vividly evoked moments that lie outside the mere plot. In fact it seems like it’s these moments—of Bo on top of a hill in Antarctica looking out at the expanse of white, for example, or of him watching a cape petrel in flight—that are really Parrett’s focus. The scanty plot is merely a vehicle for Parrett to serve up these tableaux of her characters experiencing the awe-inspiring environments they find themselves in.

Part of this book was obviously inspired and informed by Parrett’s own journey to Antarctica as a recipient of the Australian Antarctic Division’s Antarctic Arts Fellowship, hence the sharp clarity in her descriptions of Antarctic life. Parrett describes the snow petrels in Antarctica, “so white they disappear when they fly over ice, invisible except for their small black eyes looking down, their black beaks pointing”, while Bo sits gazing on “giant white cliffs running on and on, then out to the horizon, icebergs lined up for all of time […] One million shades of blue and white. The scale of it all measured against me, one man standing here. Just one man, small and breathless.”

Parrett’s striking descriptions are a large part of the joy of reading her novel. In clear simple language she captures brilliant, iconic images, like that of Bo’s porthole—“A perfect circle of light against the black inside my cabin”—as he looks through to see his shipmates playing football on the ice, “by the side of a red ship in the middle of the frozen ocean”.

The barely-hinted-at plot means you don’t feel much narrative drive, and the novel seems to float gently along as if borne on an ice floe. But if you reconcile yourself to this semi-aimlessness, opening this novel’s pages feels something like coming home.

Reviewed by Feby Idrus

When The Night Comes
by Favel Parrett
Published by Hachette