Okay. Clearly I don’t ‘get’ Peggy Frew.
Hope Farm is the story of Silver and her mother, Ishtar. They have lived a nomadic hippie existence for all of Silver’s 13 years and, after Ishtar meets the charismatic Miller, they move to Hope Farm, a commune in rural Victoria. At Hope Farm, Silver sees her mother in a different light and questions their relationship.
“It was always the same. We had to leave because the energy had changed – something had faded, failed, gone wrong. There was probably a specific reason, probably to do with a man, but I never needed to look that far. I just saw it coming in Ishtar, in the flattening of her voice and movements, the dulling of her colours.”
People are raving about this book and I’m not. Why? It’s partially a style issue – I find Frew’s writing obvious and formulaic. Too much telling, not enough showing. The detail is flat and one-dimensional, leaving no room to fill in spaces or to speculate (because that’s how I become invested in a book) –
“That creek! The lightness of the flow of water; the warm, brown look of it – even though, when I put my hand in, it was so cold my fingers turned white and numb – the wet fissures in the big rocks that sat half submerged; the refractions of the amber light deep down, and the mossy-looking spotted fish that lazed there. Birds seemed to burst with pleasure out of the canopy of bush, hurtling their calls around, landing with an extra flourish to dip their heads and then lift and shake them, brash drops flying from their beaks.”
Creative Writing 101? It’s the height of rudeness but I couldn’t help compare Frew’s descriptions of the landscape to those in books such as Foal’s Bread and Mateship with Birds, which have a very different kind of precision.
The characters in the story were serviceable but there was nothing new, nothing to surprise me. The sense of place and time (the book is set in 1985) is thoroughly described but again, is exactly what I would expect a hippy commune to be like.
In summary, I didn’t learn anything new from this book. Not because I grew up on a commune in Nimbin and have first-hand experience (I didn’t and don’t) but because it felt like the detail was a regurgitation of every pot-smoking-not-enough-mung-beans-to-go-around-dirty-mattresses-on-the-floor hippie stereotype I’ve come across. Nothing about this story transported me to another place. Nothing made me gasp with surprise. Nothing made me want to read bits again.
2/5 Please someone, tell me why I’m wrong about this book. What did I miss?
Will it win the Stella Prize? No.