“It’s hard to remember much from before Hope. We lived in so many places – and in my memory they’ve merged to form a kind of hazy, overlapping backdrop.”
– Peggy Frew, Hope Farm
It is the winter of 1985. Hope Farm sticks out of the ragged landscape like a decaying tooth, its weatherboard walls sagging into the undergrowth. Silver’s mother, Ishtar, has fallen for the charismatic Miller, and the three of them have moved to the rural hippie commune to make a new start.
At Hope, Silver finds unexpected friendship and, at last, a place to call home. But it is also here that, at just thirteen, she is thrust into an unrelenting adult world — and the walls begin to come tumbling down, with deadly consequences.
Hope Farm is the masterful second novel from award-winning author Peggy Frew, and is a devastatingly beautiful story about the broken bonds of childhood, and the enduring cost of holding back the truth.
The first thing to note about Hope Farm by Peggy Frew is just how incredibly beautiful the cover is. It would have to be one of my favourites for the year! I am happy to report that the story beneath is just as intricate, delicate and revealing as the cover would suggest.
Hope Farm tells the story of Ishtar and Silver – mother and daughter – living a nomadic lifestyle between the ashrams of Brisbane in 80’s. They move from place to place when Ishtar deems it time to go, usually when she grows bored and restless, or it is time to escape the clutches of her latest paramour. Ishtar used to talk of moving overseas, dreaming of a life very different from their own but when Miller appears on the scene, all that changes. Soon their bags are packed and they’re on the way to Hope Farm, a rural hippie commune in the Gippsland area of Victoria. Hope Farm is a run down property that Miller dreams of returning to its former glory but the other residents don’t share the same enthusiasm. That is, until Miller pulls out his stash of marijuana or acid. Then the fun and games begin. For the first time in a long while, Silver finally feels as though their life is settling; despite her reluctance, she gains some extended family, a friend and a place to call home. Their carefully constructed life starts to unravel with the arrival of two unexpected guests and eventually, their lives come tumbling down.
One of my favourite literary storylines is of childhood, usually of an adult reminiscing about the past. They are carefully constructed stories, as the narrator recalls what they think they remember. Memory is an unreliable beast, dictated by our emotion at the time. We shape our histories based on our best and worst memories and our main protagonist Silver is no different. Silver is a peculiar character; Frew’s construction of the characters is incredibly strong but I never felt like I had a strong grasp on Silver. For me, she was always a little out of focus. Perhaps that was Frew’s intention; throughout the story she is never the centre of attention. Ishtar’s presence is so dominant that the story always revolves around her. Silver idolises her mother however there is a level of resentment and indifference simmering below the surface. Frew’s descriptions of Ishtar and Miller are definitely the most vivid:
“Miller stood out among the farmers and the salesmen; it was as if he was too clearly in focus. Where their clothes had a soft look, the colours muted, their jeans grease-stained and whites at the knees, his held a freshness, the colours too bright, too evenly distributed. It was the same with the hands…Miller’s hands in comparison glared their unmarked cleanliness, their softness,” and,
“… it was because she was beautiful… the open, soft-faced stare; the covert glance; the bodily adjustments, use of a louder voice, bigger gestures – and it was to do with the way she wore her beauty, her ownership of it. It was there in the way she walked, the straightness of her spine, the reserved grace of her movements, in her speech, her laughter – and in the was she bestowed these things on others, measured them out. She was in charge. She made people want her.”
Hope Farm is a story this isn’t quite as inspiring as the name suggests. The residents at Hope are a little insipid; their behaviour is inoffensive most of the time and their idealistic talk is harmless but what underlines the whole story is the vicious cycle of damage that occurs when there are no boundaries to protect those who need it. Silver is a victim of her mother’s dominance and insecurity, and the demons that follow them, no matter how far they move. Hope Farm is a tenderly written story, acutely observed and masterly constructed. Frew’s writing is impressionable, memorable and highly enjoyable.
AUTHOR: Peggy Frew
PUBLISHER: Scribe Publications
PUB DATE: 23 September 2015
Thank you to Scribe for sending me a reading copy in exchange for an honest review!