All The Books I Can Read

1 girl….2 many books!

Review: Hope Farm by Peggy Frew

on March 24, 2016

Hope FarmHope Farm
Peggy Frew
Scribe Publishing
2015, 343p
Purchased personal copy

Blurb {courtesy of the publisher/}:

‘They were inescapable, the tensions of the adult world — the fraught and febrile aura that surrounded Ishtar and those in her orbit, that whined and creaked like a wire pulled too tight.’

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.

This year I made a commitment to read the six books shortlisted for the Stella Prize, which recognises writing by Australian female authors. I’d already read one last year (The Natural Way Of Things by Charlotte Wood) so that left me five to read. To help motivate me for this I signed up for the Stella bookclub where participants read one book a week to complete the shortlist before the winner is announced. There’s a Twitter chat each Monday night between 8-9pm where those who have read the book can join a hosted/led discussion. Hope Farm is the second of the five books I need to read to complete the shortlist and my favourite so far.

It’s the story of Silver, who at 13 is moving yet again with her single mother Ishtar. Silver’s life seems to be have been a kaleidoscope of sharehouses and commune-type things but they never seem to stay in one place for long. Ishtar meets Miller, a man with ideals to live sustainably and self-sufficiently on Hope Farm, located somewhere in Victoria’s Gippsland area. Silver and her mother travel two days by train to get there, arriving before Miller to a place that doesn’t particularly look like a utopia. There are several inhabitants, most of whom work at a nearby powdered milk factory in order to support the farm.

In theory, Hope Farm sounds awesome. I have to admit, there’s something so very attractive about the idea of being mostly self-sufficient – growing your own food, having a few animals to use for protein or barter. But the reality of these places is nearly always very different – it’s poverty, drugs, people who don’t know what they’re doing and blurred lines. Silver sees a lot, experiences a lot, things that she should probably be protected from. The narrative is almost all Silver’s which at first made me devote my sympathies and loyalties almost exclusively to her. But interspersed are diary entries, which after a couple become obvious that they’re written by Ishtar. They shed some light on her early decisions, what she sacrificed and the choices she made in order to be able to gain what she wanted. Whilst I didn’t always agree with Ishtar, the choices she made and how she was raising Silver, I did find myself coming to slowly admire her for her strength and determination. I think that she made a lot of those choices for the right reasons, she was searching for something but every time it looked like she found it, really what she’d found was just another form of oppression and the feeling of being stuck.

This book is set in the 1980’s, not that long ago in broad terms but there are attitudes and beliefs that have evolved significantly in many ways since then. Ishtar was only a teenager when she fell pregnant and in Queensland in the 1980’s with a religious mother, there were very few options that were open to her and the desperation that she felt was really quite heartbreaking. The more diary entries I read from Ishtar, the more of them I wanted to read – I felt as though her story was really only just touched on, those sparse entries just giving the reader enough to flesh out the rest in their imaginations. It’s impossible for that youthful idealism Ishtar had to remain untainted as she moves on again and again. It definitely affects her relationship with Silver and as the pattern continues, it also clearly affects the way that Silver sees her mother.

I have a bad record with prize winners – I almost never love the winner and sometimes I don’t even like or get any of the books chosen for a shortlist! I still keep trying though because reading shortlists helps me broaden my reading and get me out of my comfort zone a bit. I am happy to say that the two I’ve read so far from the shortlist for the bookclub have both been enjoyable, but this one is my favourite. I connected really strongly with Silver and the landscape as well. It’s set in a different part of Victoria to where I live but I could imagine what it would be like those cold winter nights with no heating, wearing pretty much every piece of clothing you own to stay warm. I lived rurally when I was younger too and my brother and I often explored the local area the way that Silver and her neighbour Ian explore the bush and the abandoned mineshafts. The novel built very well towards the climax, constructing a simmering atmosphere on the farm that was bound to boil over.

Hope Farm is beautifully written – I enjoyed it before we discussed it but that conversation only helped me appreciate it more. I think were it to win, it’d be a worthy choice.


Book #53 of 2016


Hope Farm is the 21st book read as part of my participation in the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2016


One response to “Review: Hope Farm by Peggy Frew

  1. […] just mention two, given I’ve already shared Kate and Angela’s reviews of Six bedrooms. Bree (1 girl 2 many books) enjoyed the novel, liking the 1980s rural setting and the subsistence ideal, the characters and the […]

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