Posted by: Lisa Hill | December 9, 2019

There Was Still Love, by Favel Parrett

There Was Still Love is Favel Parrett’s third novel, and it shows her maturing style.   Past the Shallows had a grim setting in Tasmania but When the Night Comes ventured further: her characters meet in Hobart, but the novel includes scenes from Denmark and aboard Australia’s Antarctic vessel, the Nella Dan.  There Was Still Love extends this preoccupation with a wider world and its history: the novel tells parallel stories from the 1980s, in Melbourne and in Prague, (then behind the Iron Curtain), and there are flashbacks to the Nazi partition of Czechoslovakia in 1938, the postwar Soviet takeover, and the 1968 Soviet invasion to suppress the Prague Spring.

The novel is told from the limited third person perspective of two children: Malá Liška a.k.a. ‘Little Fox’, living in Melbourne with her grandparents Máňa and Bill; and Luděk, living with his grandmother Eva in Prague.  Both these children have vivid interior lives, but family life is permeated by the silences of questions that are never answered.  Mana and Eva are sisters with a catastrophic past that separated them, and the plot moves slowly towards revealing how a childhood misadventure led one to freedom in Australia while the remains captive to the restraints of life under the Soviet regime.

The children’s perspectives suit Parrett’s vivid impressionistic style.  We meet Little Fox in her fantasy world while her grandpa snoozes in his chair.  Did the tape finish?’ he asks when he wakes:

Side two — the best side.  Saturn, the Bringer of Old Age; Uranus, the Magician; Neptune, The Mystic — my favourite planet, and our favourite piece.  My grandpa thinks that the celesta is a magical instrument and I always listen out for it in each different track.  Holst: The Planets. (p.6)

They are called into the kitchen where they lunch on A Kaiser roll with a slice of cheese and a slice of Parisier and Parrett gracefully conveys the careful rationing of food with one gherkin for me, one for my grandma and one for my grandpa.  They are saving every cent they can for a trip back to Czechoslovakia to see Eva.  And when it is time to go, the money doesn’t stretch to taking Little Fox with them. She has to stay behind with an uncle.

Luděk, running wild in Prague, eavesdrops on conversations that he is not meant to hear.  The two sisters, briefly reunited, share both guilt and resentments, the atmosphere made more enigmatic by the presence of shadowy figures trailing them.  Their phone calls, when they are separated by the vast distance between their lives, are always constrained because they know about the surveillance that has haunted their entire lives.  Together in Eva’s poky flat where she sleeps in the kitchen to make room for her guests, they whisper.

Luděk longs to know where his mother is and if she will return, not knowing that the authorities are holding her to ransom while she travels the world with a theatre group. They know that she will have to return from the West for as long as she wants to see her child.  He is the ransom, and it is his grandmother Eva who has the burden of holding him there.  On her last night in Prague, Máňa tells him a bedtime story which becomes a metaphor for courage and self-sacrifice: Atlas, with the world on his shoulders, briefly abandons his burden, but only to save the life of a child.  Curious to see this statue in which Atlas sits on top of an arched gateway, down a narrow lane, and he watches over a secret garden, I searched for an image of it.  Here it is:

Atlas at the Vrtba Gardens in Prague, at Trip Adviser*

The boy’s search for this statue of Atlas becomes a quest which leads him to Mrs Bláža, a lonely old woman who he thinks might be able to answer his questions.  She is too old and deaf to help him, but he finds himself wanting to help her and to lessen her lonely days with the gift of their old B&W TV.

It is not until he is alone again with his grandmother that he understands the meaning of the story:

Aunty Máňa was free.  She could come and go, not like Babi.  Not like him.  They were stuck here while everyone else in the whole world could move around anywhere they wanted to. (p.139)

It is his grandmother who consoles him: he felt her take it all like always — take the weight, the bad feelings.  They lifted off him and sunk down into her large body.

He looked at her — his babi.  All those years of carrying so much.  All the years of being stuck and having to keep everything going.  And he knew that Babi held it all so that he did not have to. Babi held it all so that he could stay free.

He was not like Atlas — but she was. (p.132)

There Was Still Love is a delicate homage to the self-sacrifice of families everywhere.

My only complaint about this book is that I wished there was a pronunciation guide for the Czech names.  Even though I’m only reading in my head, it feels disrespectful to mispronounce names, and I have no idea how to pronounce the diacritics so painstakingly added in the text.  Perhaps Hachette could include one if they add a reading group guide to their webpage about this book?

*Image credit:

  • Atlas at the Vrtba Gardens in Prague, at Trip Adviser, traveller photo submitted by Peter Kotvan (Jul. 2018)
  • There is a clearer image here by Carole Wood, which labels it Prague – Karmelitská – Jardin Vrtba – Porte  at  but the photo’s copyright status isn’t clear so I haven’t used it.

Author: Favel Parrett
Title: There Was Still Love
Cover design: Christabella Designs, cover illustration by Robert Farkas
Publisher: Hachette, 2019, 214 pages
ISBN: 9780733630682
Source: personal library, purchased from Ulysses Bookstore $29.99

Available from Fishpond: There Was Still Love


Responses

  1. Another one to come back to – my reading group is doing it next year too – but not until around May/June as I recollect.

    Like

    • You’re going to have a good year with your group, Sue:)

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I enjoy that growing up outside Australia/UK is part of normal Australian lit. and therefore of Australian experience. I must say I butcher non-English pronunciations in my head, and I think I ‘store’ them as pictures rather than sounds. Do you mind if I say Prague was behind the Iron Curtain, but not in the USSR.

    Like

    • Oops, I’d better fix that, thanks:)

      Like

  3. This has been on my radar awhile. Perhaps I’ll getnthe audible so I can get the Czech names correct. Audible is good at that.

    Like

  4. Hi Lisa, I am down in Hobart for 5 weeks, and I will be looking out for this novel. I enjoyed Favel Parret’s other two novels. I like her characters and story lines.

    Like

    • Five weeks! Lucky you!!
      It’s funny you know, I always think of her as a Tasmanian author, but she was born in Victoria and is Melbourne-based. It’s because she brings Tassie so vividly to life, I think.

      Like

  5. A beautiful delicate writer.

    Like

    • Yes, and a great gift for enabling us to see her scenes.

      Like

  6. […] There Was Still Love, by Favel Parrett […]

    Like

  7. […] There Was Still Love by Favel Parrett (Hachette Australia), see my review […]

    Like

  8. […] Favel Parrett’s There was still love (on my TBR) (Lisa’s review) […]

    Like

  9. […] There Was Still Love, Favel Parrett (Hachette Australia, Hachette Australia), see my review […]

    Like

  10. […] There was Still Love (Favel Parrett, Hachette), see my review […]

    Like

  11. […] Favel Parrett’s There was still love (novel) (will be read in May) (Lisa’s review) […]

    Like

  12. […] There Was Still Love, by Favel Parrett […]

    Like

  13. […] Was Still Love by Favel Parrett (Hachette Australia), see my review and Theresa’s at Theresa Smith […]

    Like

  14. […] my word for it. There have been lots of great reviews of this novel by other bloggers, including Lisa at ANZLitLovers, Kate at booksaremyfavouriteandbest and Susan at A Life in […]

    Like

  15. […] see my review There Was Still Love, Favel Parrett (Hachette Australia, Hachette Australia), see my review Wolfe Island, Lucy Treloar (Pan Macmillan Australia, Picador Australia), see my […]

    Like

  16. […] see my review There Was Still Love, Favel Parrett (Hachette Australia, Hachette Australia), see my review Wolfe Island, Lucy Treloar (Pan Macmillan Australia, Picador Australia), see my […]

    Like

  17. […] There Was Still Love by Favel Parrett, see my review […]

    Like


Please share your thoughts and join the conversation!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Categories

%d bloggers like this: