Hope Farm by Peggy Frew, my accidental library pick last week, drew me in from the beginning. I’d planned to borrow Frew’s Islands, longlisted for this year’s Miles Franklin Literary Award. All copies were on loan.
I’m glad Hope Farm sat in a pile of returned books waiting to be shelved. Otherwise I might have overlooked it. As it turned, out this page-turner kept me up far past my usual bedtime as I devoured it.
The title, Hope Farm, is ironic: the commune in Victoria offers no hope to 13-year-old Silver and her mother, Ishtar. Maybe once a place of hopes and dreams, by 1985 when Ishtar and Silver arrive, only derelict buildings and broken people remain.
After years of life in ashrams, strangers’ houses and other communes, the duo have followed the charismatic Miller to Hope Farm. Ishtar hopes for a new start, a new life with him. But he withholds from her the vital information that makes a mockery of his promises.
Peggy Frew’s sensitive writing tells the story from Silver’s point of view. A series of excerpts from what could be Ishtar’s diary uncover her sad journey. We learn about her estranged parents and sister and the events that changed her life.
Silver and Ishtar both yearn to be loved. At Hope Farm they find some kindness among the preoccupied, sad residents. Silver finds the friendship she craves in unlikely places. Forced to move from the main house to an equally broken-down hut, she also finds a place she can call home.
Darkness at the heart of Hope Farm
In spite of brighter intervals, at their hearts the novel and the cold neglected farm are dark and often joyless. Yearning for her mother’s love, Silver finds herself thrust instead into her mother’s sordid affairs. She sees and hears things no child should experience. Ishtar herself has never grown up enough to parent a child adequately.
She tells her daughter that, had abortion been available when she was pregnant, she would not have terminated the pregnancy. In light of her actions, this does not ring true to the child or to the reader.
A sense of dread kept me reading. How can a badly wounded adolescent recover from that knowledge? How will she deal with her generalised anger at her mother? What will Miller do next?
Tensions rise and rise. Peggy Frew’s plot-line twists, turns and explodes. Although the reader has been warned in foretelling events, the climax surprises. Even the cover, fairly bleak and at one level ordinary, hints at the climax of the novel.
This novel, one of three by acclaimed Australian author, Peggy Frew, attests to her skill as a writer. It can be classified as a literary novel and also as a domestic novel. I highly recommend it as a rollicking good story, beautifully written.
This review forms part of my commitmerent to the Australian Women Writers Challenge, 2020.
Here’s a link to another of my reviews of a coming-of age novel, Tony Birch’s Ghost River.