Monday, 9 September 2019

There Was Still Love by Favel Parrett

The profoundly moving new novel from the critically acclaimed and Miles Franklin shortlisted author of PAST THE SHALLOWS and WHEN THE NIGHT COMES. A tender and masterfully told story of memory, family and love. 
Prague, 1938: Eva flies down the street from her sister. Suddenly a man steps out, a man wearing a hat. Eva runs into him, hits the pavement hard. His hat is in the gutter. His anger slaps Eva, but his hate will change everything, as war forces so many lives into small, brown suitcases. 
Prague, 1980: No one sees Ludek. A young boy can slip right under the heavy blanket that covers this city - the fear cannot touch him. Ludek is free. And he sees everything. The world can do what it likes. The world can go to hell for all he cares because Babi is waiting for him in the warm flat. His whole world. 
Melbourne, 1980: Mala Li ka's grandma holds her hand as they climb the stairs to their third floor flat. Inside, the smell of warm pipe tobacco and homemade cakes. Here, Mana and Bill have made a life for themselves and their granddaughter. A life imbued with the spirit of Prague and the loved ones left behind. 
Favel Parrett's deep emotional insight and stellar literary talent shine through in this love letter to the strong women who bind families together, despite dislocation and distance. It is a tender and beautifully told story of memory, family and love. Because there is still love. No matter what.

I read Past the Shallows, Parrett's debut novel when it first came out in 2011 and adored it. It was sad, beautiful and set in Tasmania, all positives that ensured an enjoyable reading experience. I never got around to reading her 2014 novel, When the Night Comes, for no particular reason. Time just got away from me and the moment to read it passed.

I didn't want to make the same mistake with There Was Still Love. So when my ARC from Hachette Australia arrived, I sat it on top of the pile by my bed, and here we are, a few short weeks later, with it read, even before it's publication date on the 24th September.

I have been struggling, though, to find a way to talk about this book for awhile. That is until, a weekend visit to see the Archibald Prize exhibition at the Art Gallery of NSW, gave me a quote to work with.

Fiona Lowry was this year's Sulman Prize judge. A plaque near the entrance explained her thinking as she approached the judging process.
I was reminded of an interview I recently read with the artists Eric Fischl where he suggests that artists are looking for love, and they are expressing love in their commitment to what they have made.
He goes on to say: 'Love is complicated, obviously. But the reason artists do what they do on some level is to say: "Don't look at me, look at this thing I made you and you will know the true me."' 

Judging and viewing and reviewing another's artistic efforts is a privilege I don't take lightly. I'm aware that heart, body and soul goes into most creative work. It is an act of love and trust and hope.

And an act of incredible bravery. Because once a creation leaves the artists hands and enters the public sphere, anything can happen. The whole process becomes totally subjective and out of their control.

How one reacts to art can depend on so many variables, and just because something doesn't appeal to you or move you right now, doesn't mean the work is 'bad' or that others won't adore it.

So, I respectfully confess, that I may be in the minority here, when I say that I was underwhelmed by There Was Still Love. Yes, the prose was beautifully rendered, yes it was moving (but not profoundly so). Yes, I also believe that Parrett is a literary talent, but I wanted more.

There was tenderness, dislocation and strong women but the emotional insight was, dare I say, nothing new. I kept waiting for something or someone who never turned up. Or to return to the food analogies of the last few posts, There Was Still Love was a souffle that failed to rise. All the right ingredients and processes were in place, but the chemical magic failed to kick in.

It's always good to be reminded of how love makes this life-long journey worthwhile and to revisit the different ways love can be experienced and expressed, but, in the end, so many books have covered this same ground already. At least most of the books that I choose to read. So I was looking for something meatier; I was expecting something more. Especially since one of my colleagues finished his copy last month and has been gushing about it ever since.

There Was Still Love was a lovely dance across the surface of love, memory and family, but I prefer books that dive into the depths. It was a gentle interlude in my usual reading schedule, a bit like eating fairy floss, light and airy and sweet. Lovely writing, a lovely premise, but not quite enough to whet my appetite.

6 comments:

  1. I have this for review but am yet to read it. I'll let you know what I think, although it is my first Parrett so I have nothing to compare it to.

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    1. Thanks Theresa, I'll watch out for your review.

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  2. Brona! I thought this one had satiated you, but nope. I'm very much like you. I appreciate the way you respectfully reviewed this book, But there's nothing wrong with "us" who like deep, and who want more. It's our just right.

    I do wish you find a more fulfilling title soon, my friend.

    I appreciate how widely and varied books you read. I'm truly fortunate to have found you. I do enjoy my reading Internet buddies!

    Good luck on your next reads.

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    1. Fortunately, I'm reading Moby-Dick (which has raised the bar for what I expect of classic literature for sure!), another meaty Iris Murdoch and I've just started a contemporary story called The Far Field by Madhuri Vijay which is marvellous reading so far. They're all deep, layered, engrossing reads.

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    2. Good to hear! Because it seemed that you had a bad luck spell with the shorter and more modern books of late. I love those words: deep, layered, engrossing reads.
      You've made my reading of Moby Dick a fabulous one. It's much better this time than the other time when I was reading by myself. Like you, doing challenges or read alongs gives me the help, support, and understanding of long or 'hard' books, and helps me to succeed and enjoy my reading.

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    3. Sadly, as you know, the only time this type of readalong didn't work for me was with Don Quixote, although I did read past the halfway mark! And I know this is one of your all-time favourite books too.
      All I can say, is that the one thing I do know about myself, is that I struggle to read satire. I have never finished Catch-22, Cold Comfort Farm left me cold & I didn't get the point of Vile Bodies at all.

      I'm thrilled that you're getting so much out of this readalong too - I'm loving the support being expressed here, on twitter & on instagram :-)

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