Hope Farm has been an office favourite since it was published in October last year. Now it’s up for the win for this year’s Stella Prize – read the gr review below, and also check out our review for The Natural Way of Things which has also been shortlisted.
Hope Farm – Peggy Frew
Following Peggy Frew’s award-winning debut novel House of Sticks comes the Australian drama Hope Farm. The language Frew uses is easy to read but powerfully sensuous; she sensitively describes and gives insightful glimpses into communal living situations, the plight of unmarried mothers in the early ’70s, and the characters’ feelings as they strive to cope.
Through the voices of Silver, a 13-year-old girl, and her mother Ishtar, we learn about the dysfunctional life of moving again and again from ashram to commune. Ishtar’s voice is in the form of a blue notebook, written from the time she became pregnant at 17. It’s written about the past for her daughter to read in the future. It tells of her love for her child and endeavours to explain their drifting life. Silver’s voice tells of the hardships she faces being dragged around from place to place and of trying to bridge the increasing emotional distance between her and her mother as Ishtar becomes involved with each new man. All Silver wants is a permanent place to stay with her mother alone.
Miller, an enthusiastic but psychologically unhinged man, tempts Ishtar to live with him at Hope Farm, a dilapidated hippie commune. So Ishtar and Silver move from Brisbane to Gippsland, Victoria, on the promise of a positive future. Silver’s description of the desolate Hope Farm and its various inhabitants is vivid and engaging.
Through dramatic events at the farm, Silver is forced to make decisions far beyond the expectations of her years. These have tragic results and redemption may not be possible. The story has an exciting and satisfying but realistic climax, and it warns that hiding the truth can create rifts in relationships that are difficult to heal.
Reviewed by Judith Grace – Scribe $29.99