After hearing so many good things about Hope Farm and with it being shortlisted for the Stella Prize, it was clear I had to read it. Plus the cover is just beautiful. Hope Farm tells of the story of Silver and her mother Ishtar. Ishtar is a hippie and Silver’s life has consisted of commune after group home, often following Ishtar’s latest man. Miller is the current one who takes them all the way from sunny Queensland to Hope Farm down in freezing cold Victoria. The novel follows Silver navigating her teen years from school years bullies and her only friend Ian to her complex relationship with her mother and loathing for her boyfriend. Silver’s narration is spliced with journal entries from Ishtar.
I found the juxtaposition of Silver’s relationship with her mother and Ishtar’s journal entries incredibly interesting during the first half of the book. Ishtar’s description of how she fought to keep her daughter as a single mother in the 1970s was a stark contrast to Silver’s stories of her mothers indifference towards her growing up on the commune. These contrasting elements drove me to try understand how the past lead into the present. How that endless love curdled into the detachment the reader witnesses seemed like a vast amount of ground to cover. Ishtar’s voice slowly explains the chain of events that lead to her lack of interest in her daughter.
The voice of Silver was earnest and relatable to your own experiences of being a gawky teenager. Navigating friendships and schoolyard taunts, inappropriate childhood crushes and body changes that you aren’t ready for. We have all been there and we go through this rollercoaster with Silver. Yet her teenage experiences are brought to us in such a simplistic, stripped down manner due to her life out on the commune and with the time being before all the electronics today’s generation are obsessed with. What we are left with is a beautiful and raw description of these trials and tribulations for the reader to connect with.
I raced through the book interested to know what was going to happen. Frew quietly builds up anticipation of some big event that you can feel brewing from early on in the book. Finally all hell breaks loose and the reader races along looking for the conclusion. This drama isn’t overwritten as sometimes climaxes are prone to be. Free keeps it going with her stunningly descriptive language keeping the story clear and true.
I was sad with the final outcome of Silver and Ishtar’s relationship but the book only speaks of an honest and plausible outcome. No dishonestly happy ending here. Not that is is a sad ending. It is fitting of the tone of the book. Although I couldn’t help but be disappointed in Ishtar’s choices and even though the reader was privy to her journal I still could not understand her motivations towards the ned of the book.
Overall this was a jarringly honest look at life as a teenager growing up. The voice of Silver was eloquent and memorable with a range of rich supporting characters. I recommend giving Hope Farm a read, it is certainly deserving of it’s shortlist for the Stella Prize and as a finalist for the Miles Franklin award. I give Hope Farm three outdoor baths, one of Silver’s abhorred commune experiences.