TO THE ISLAND
We had dinner in the canteen, at a wooden table and the chairs didn’t move. They were stuck to the floor somehow.
Mum was quiet, and my brother was quiet, and when we finished eating a man in a white uniform came over and said that the ship was going through the heads soon and that the forecast was for very rough seas. He was only looking at Mum when he spoke. He told her that it was advisable to get the children to bed as soon as possible.
My brother fell asleep quickly, his small body tucked in tight on the top bunk. But I lay awake, waiting for the rough seas. Waiting to see what they would feel like so far down. Flights and flights of stairs down from the canteen and from the windows that looked out to the sky. Down where we were, there were no windows. Down where we were, there were only fluoro lights and bunk beds. The bathroom was down the passage and Mum had left us. She was upstairs somewhere, upstairs above us where there was air, and I wished that she would come back.
I must have fallen asleep because when I woke the whole world was rocking and shaking and I was rolling in my bed. Not just from side to side, but up and down as well. Mum’s bed was still made. She wasn’t there.
When I tried to get out of bed, I fell over and was sick on the floor. My brother was looking at me, his hands stuck fast around the railings of the bunk bed, his face white like death.
“Where’s Mum?” he asked, but I didn’t know.
He got down somehow, down from the bunk, and he didn’t fall. He stood holding on to the bed as the room turned over and over and he got a towel off Mum’s bed and put it over the vomit on the floor. He helped me up and in our pajamas we made it out the door and into the hall. Together we fell against the walls as the ship lunged, and we slowly moved toward the stairs. Up and up, gripping the rail. Up to the deck where the canteen was.
There was hardly anyone around, only a few people sitting in the carpeted lounge, sitting with their heads in their hands. The canteen was empty and I couldn’t tell what time it was. Outside the windows it was dark.
Outside it was black.
Mum was sitting by herself on a bench attached to the wall of the ship under a Plexiglas roof. We sat next to her, holding on to the bottom of the bench tightly.
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.
I told her that I had been sick and she wiped my forehead and cheek and said, “I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.” It looked like she was crying. She said it was just the sea spray and the cold. And it was cold. It was freezing and windy, and the wind cut into your back like you had no skin at all. I could hear the water crack against the ship, feel it hit then hear the spray shoot up. Only I couldn’t see it. I couldn’t see anything past the light cast out on the deck.
Out there the world was raging in the blackness.
We were going to a new place.
We were sailing toward it in the night.
An island in the middle of the sea.
An island that was made of stone.
It was only the ship that was keeping us safe. Only thin layers of steel and an engine pumping away in the dark were keeping us above the water, which would gladly swallow us all up like we had never ever been.
When the Night Comes
Isla is a lonely girl who moves to Hobart with her mother and brother to try to better their lives. It’s not really working until they meet Bo, a crewman on an Antarctic supply ship, the Nella Dan, who shares stories about his adventures with them—his travels, bird watching, his home in Denmark, and life on board the ship. Isla is struggling to learn what truly matters and who to trust, while this modern Viking is searching to understand his past and to find a place in this world for himself. Though their time together is short, it is enough to change the course of both their lives.
Praised for writing that is “vivid and distinct” (Library Journal, starred review) and “exquisite in its simplicity and eloquence” (Kirkus Reviews), Favel Parrett delivers a stunningly beautiful novel—“spare but memorable” (Booklist)—about the remarkable and unexpected bond forged between strangers.
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Reading Group Guide
This reading group guide for When the Night Comes includes an introduction, discussion questions, and ideas for enhancing your book club. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.
Isla is a lonely girl who moves to Hobart with her mother and brother to try to better their lives. Their efforts are not really working until they meet Bo, a crewman on an Antarctic supply ship, the Nella Dan, who shares stories about his adventures with them—his travels, bird watching, his home in Denmark, and life on board the ship. Isla is struggling to learn what truly matters and who to trust, and this modern Viking is searching to understand his past and find a place in this world for himself. Though their time together is short, it’s enough to change the course of both their lives. And what they give each other might mean they can both eventually find their way home.
Praised for writing that is “vivid and distinct” (Library Journal, starred review) and “exquisite in its simplicity and eloquence” (Kirkus Reviews), Favel Parrett delivers a stunningly beautiful novel about the bond forged between two unlikely and unforgettable strangers.
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