SHALLOWS by Tim Winton

SHALLOWS

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Winner in 1984 of Australia's prestigious Miles Franklin Award, this is a largely conventional novel about modern-day whaling and the barbarities thereof, interspliced with the story of commercial finaglings in a small town, and with the saga of a tormented family. Brutal, and serving an outmoded market, the whaling industry nevertheless relentlessly continues as economic mainstay of the seen-better-days town of Angelus on Australia's western coast--although it's an industry that continues, after the arrival of a motley but determined group of anti-whaling activists, with something of a shaken conscience. A local young woman who joins the activists is Queenie Coupar, last offspring of a family that traces its beginnings back to Nathaniel Coupar, who worked here for a whaling company in the 1830's, before Angelus even existed (or when it was only a British penal colony and whaling outpost). Queenie's conscience compels her to join the protesters, though her new husband, the seemingly weak-spirited ex-journalist Cleve Cookson, hardly shares her compulsion: in a quarrel over the matter, accusing her of being ""all into emotion,"" he fells her with a blow of his fist. During their subsequent and miserable separation, Queenie continues in the sea-going (and dangerous) protests, and Cleve immerses himself further in the ancient journals of whaler Nathaniel Coupar, which provide agonized glimpses of madness, rapine, and cruelty, harbingers of the deaths and suicides, the reader learns, that will plague the Coupar family down to the time of, but excepting, Queenie herself. Before Queenie and Cleve are reunited at book's end, there will be on-going portraits of Queenie's irascibly stubborn and slowly dying grandfather, Daniel Coupar; of the good Reverend William Pell; of bigot and pub-owner Hassa Stoats; and of the loathsome commercial manipulator Des Pustling, who wears a girdle, grows new sets of teeth as he loses the old, and bit by bit buys up town and environs. An ambitious symmetry of structure and symbol is blemished here by tiredly familiar elements of town-exposÉ, moments of callow preachiness (""and our future lies in communication between the species, co-existence with the environment. Not in the follies of the past""), and simple lapses of tone and judgement (""Oh God, no, she thought. Please,"" or ""Geez, he thought, geez""). But much else is strong, not least the riveting journals of Nathaniel Coupar, and the many evocations of weather and land. Earnest, hardly fresh in manner, but often compelling.

Pub Date: July 1st, 1986
Publisher: Atheneum