Harry himself is a charming and thoughtful child, while we are unsure of his age, I would estimate somewhere between eight and twelve, his ability to coax love from the least likely of people including the reclusive George, and his Aunt Jean.
The world that Parrett evokes in Past the Shallows is a distinctly masculine one, a world of fishing boats and the men who work them. Aunt Jean, their mother's sister, is for the boys one of the rare sources of female authority, and in this masculine environment her authority is resented, as is the authority of the shop keeper Mrs Martin. Approved of women like Mrs Phillips, Harry's friend Stuart's mother, or the brother's own mother, gain approval through their passivity and their conformity to strict gender stereotypes. The affluent Brian Roberts, who sells his catch to Hobart for the export market rather than the local cannery, is looked upon as equally suspect, not just for his prosperity compared to the other divers, but one suspects for his intelligence, his initiative and his comfortable masculinity. For the masculinity most on show in this novel is decidedly toxic. It is destructive, envious, violent and abusive. It is the masculinity that abusive men display towards women and children never to other men. Though other men are often aware of it, and like Brian Roberts, avoid it.
The book itself flows smoothly and quickly, the style though sparse allows the reader to move quickly enough through the more violent passages for them not to become overwhelming, while still allowing us to feel their devastating impact. I have to admit that the revelation of the family secret was less of a surprise than Parrott perhaps meant it to be as I had already worked it out some time before. The sentimental nature of some of the end did reduce the horror of what actually happened. It felt as if the novel couldn't face the full awful reality and like its characters it was still in shock.