Sunday 22 March 2015

When the Night Comes

I didn't know a lot about When the Night Comes when I picked it up. I'd heard much of Favel Parrett's first book, Past the Shallows, which I still haven't read, but I was about to see her in a session at the Newcastle Writer's Festival, and as I was keen to do some prereading, so I thought I'd check out her newest book. 

When the Night Comes is an odd book- an odd mix of story that takes us between Tasmania and Denmark, and diverts off to Antarctica at times. Structured with two linking story lines, When the Night Comes tells the story of 13 year old Isla, who has recently moved to Hobart, and Bo, a Danish cook, working in the kitchen of the Nella Dan, an Antarctic supply ship. Clearly these two story lines were going to be linked, but I found it frustrating and annoying that how they were linked wasn't really clear until 120 pages in. The time lines seemed blurred before that.

I enjoyed Isla's story more I suppose. Isla is moving to Hobart with her mother and brother when we meet her at the start of the book. Her mother is distant, leaving the kids alone on a rough crossing to Tasmania.

Mum said that she would just have one more cigarette and then we could go inside. I looked at her white face and her white hands. She was always sitting places by herself in the night- always sitting by herself having one more cigarette. 

Isla's Mum was to remain rather distant throughout the book. Clearly there has been a marriage or relationship break down, I really would have liked to learn more of that throughout the book.

It was only the ship that was keeping us safe. Only thin layers of steel and an engine pumpkin away in the dark were keeping us above the water, which would gladly swallow us all up like we had never ever been. 

The book is certainly not complimentary to Hobart, which I have always found to be a charming city to visit. The weather is always cold and miserable (which may be true to some extent), and there is rather a sense of foreboding.

Some of the steps were bowed and stained, and the stains looked like old blood rusted orange with time. Blood soaked into the stone. We'd go down one step at a time as quickly as we could. Down, down, and we'd try not to look ahead into the dark lane. But at the bottom, in the cold cobbled shadows, ghost would claw at our clothes, try to grab hold of our hair, whisper in the echo of the stone. 

Bo's story is a bit more distant for me. Bo is Danish, he grew up on an island, with a small blue and orange boat that he fished from with his father when he was not off sailing. Now Bo is a sailor himself, or a cook, working the Nella Dan on her summer supply trips to Antarctica. It never occurred to me that Antarctic supply vessels would need their own baker.

Leo has been here for hours already baking. The life of a baker. The galley warm with the smell of bread, with the smell of pastries coming out of the oven to be cooled and glazed.

I hope these Antarctic bakers are still there, not replaced by frozen bread. I like the notion of ships smelling of freshly baked bread heading off into the Southern Ocean. The story seemed more about the Nella Dan than Bo in many ways. MV Nella Dan was a real ship, made fictitious here, although she meets the same fate.

Rather unusually there is a suggested playlist at the back of the book. A list of songs mentioned during the book, most of them already old when the book is set in the mid 80s. I listened to these songs while reading the book. Many of them were familiar of course, a few new to me.

Favel Parrett was awarded an Australian Antarctic Arts Fellowship as part of the research for this book. I like to think that in another life I'd be awarded an Australian Antarctic Arts Fellowship. I wonder if they need a part-time book blogger to go? Alison Lester's Sophie Scott Goes South (see my review) was also the result of an Australian Antarctic Arts Fellowship.

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