HOPE FARM by Peggy Frew

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Hope Farm explores the mother-daughter relationship between Ishtar and Silver in the unique setting of life spent on the fringes in Australian ashrams and communes. Thirteen-year-old Silver and her mother, Ishtar, live in a Brisbane ashram. Ishtar, prone to fits of boredom with the drudgery of everyday life and dead end partners, gives in to the thrill of having a new lover, Miller, and a new life at Hope Farm, a commune in Gippsland Victoria.

Hope Farm isn’t the vibrant, self-sustaining, wondrous life on the land that Miller promised. Instead Ishtar finds herself broke after buying Miller a car and funding the trip to Hope Farm. Silver finds herself surrounded by a group of bitter and apathetic adult hippies who aren’t living by the values they preach. She is unimpressed by her new surroundings:

‘…Hope was far and away the most uncomfortable, ugliest, and most depressing place we’d ever lived, with the most flaccid, uninspiring residents…’

Ishtar is caught up in her own search for personal happiness. Silver, left to her own devices in a life with no boundaries, resorts to attempting to look after herself.  Beautiful and sensual, Ishtar is accustomed to being the centre of men’s attention. Conflict and jealousy simmers among several of the women at the commune over Miller and Ishtar, and the sexual tension they create. Dan, a young new arrival to the commune, draws Ishtar’s attentions, further fanning the fires of tension. The arrival of Miller’s wife has explosive consequences.

Silver desperately searches for a sense of normality among the liberated attitudes and actions of the hippies. She befriends Ian, a boy who lives on a nearby farm. Ian is awkward, introverted and savagely bullied at school. He channels his energies into photography and planning revenge on his bullies. Ian and Silver form a friendship that’s strictly out of school only, and they roam the nearby countryside together after school and on weekends. As Silver struggles with life at Hope Farm, she also wrestles with the emotional turmoil of being thirteen, of her body changing, and her affections for Dan. All Silver really wants is to have a home shared with just her mother, to be a family of just the two of them. And maybe Dan. Her yearning for this one thing is tangible and heartbreaking.

We gain glimpses into Ishtar’s earlier life, how she first came to be at an Ashram in Brisbane, through flashbacks that are alternated throughout the current day story. This device adds depth to Ishtar’s character and allows us to see many of the motivations behind her actions.

Peggy Frew’s novel turns a sharp eye onto a young girl cast adrift and left to wrestle alone with becoming a woman in a world over which she has no control. An absorbing read, this beautifully written book conveys the ache and longing experienced by both mother and daughter, whilst simultaneously exploring the impact of an unconventional childhood and the devastating repercussions a parent’s actions can have on their child.

Rating:  4/5

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List of Awards

2017 International Dublin Literary Award – Longlisted

2016 Barbara Jefferis Award – Winner

2016 Miles Franklin Award – Shortlisted

2016 Stella Prize – Shortlisted

2016 Indie Book Awards – Shortlisted

Hope Farm by Peggy Frew (Scribe Publications 2015), ISBN (e-book) 9781925113778

THE GOOD PEOPLE by Hannah Kent

thegoodpeopleSimply brilliant. That’s how I’d describe this book. Evocative and touching with simmering darkness, Hannah Kent’s The Good People is a fabulous piece of historical fiction inspired by true events.

I’ve heard many good things about Kent’s first novel, Burial Rites, which I haven’t yet read, and so I came to read The Good People as a first time reader of Kent’s work. I have to say, the rave reviews touting her writing style are totally justified.

The year is 1825 and in a small village near Killarney, in Ireland, Nance Roche is the village “handy women” or “keener”, a healing woman who aside from being the town midwife also works with natural remedies to heal all manner of ailments.

She was the gatekeeper at the edge of the world. The final human hymn before all fell to wind and shadow and the strange creaking of starts. She was a pagan chorus. An older song.

Nora has unexpectedly lost her husband and, after the death of her daughter a year previously, is forced to raise her four-year-old grandson alone. Only Micheal isn’t like other children; he is weak, he cannot walk, he does not speak and he cries all the time. Nora is certain that something, a changeling, has taken over her grandson’s health and that with the right remedy he can be restored to his former health. She enlists Nance’s help to heal the boy. Nance is convinced that Micheal has been taken by the fairies, and she conceives of ways to “put the fairy out of him”. The path the Nora and Nance embark upon is fraught with peril and ultimately they must pay a price for their actions.

Through this engrossing tale, Kent explores 19th century Irish fairy lore and how folk lore formed a deep part of village life belief systems as did the use of herbal medicines. Kent has the ability to draw the reader into the world that she has created and keep you there until the very last page. Her characters are well crafted and although I could sense that tragedy was coming, I still felt compassion for Nance, who believed she was doing the right thing to dispel the fairy that had taken over Micheal’s body. She has the gift of healing and her intentions are pure. Nora, consumed by grief at the loss of her husband and daughter, and afraid of village gossip, will do anything to have her grandson returned to her. Therein lies the conflict between belief and madness and how far someone will go to be with the ones they love.

A truly touching, evocative story written by a truly talented author. I highly recommend you put this book on your reading list. The Good People has been short-listed for the Indie Book Awards 2017.

Rating: 5/5

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The Good People by Hannah Kent (Pan Macmillan Australia 2016)

EPUB format: 9781925483789

To find out more about Hannah Kent’s new title, or her previous titles, visit her website.

Other ways to connect with Hannah Kent:

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/HannahKentAuthor

Twitter: https://twitter.com/hannahfkent

WHAT CAME BEFORE by Anna George

What CameBeforeThe opening sentence to What Came Before was so compelling and powerful
that I started reading and couldn’t stop.

‘My name is David James Forrester. I’m a solicitor. Tonight, at 6.10, I killed my wife. This is my statement.’

Well, no need to worry about spoiler alerts there. The damage has been done. But why? What happened?

David sits in his car talking into his Dictaphone trying to record his version of events. He’s desperate to get the details right and feels certain that he will succeed, that he’ll do this better than all those people he’s represented and all the confessions that he’s listened to. Meanwhile, Elle, his wife lingers in the laundry, hovering above her lifeless body, wondering how things reached this point.

Both David and Elle retrace and reflect on their relationship, on their actions over the past 22 months that lead to the point of David strangling his wife. Elle is a film maker who turned her back on a law career in favour of creative pursuits. She is passionate and won’t settle for mediocrity or misery. David is a lawyer who hates his job but staunchly carries on, denying his desires for creative expression. He is powerful but dark, his anger lurks hidden beneath his charm, and control is what he craves.

This book is a gripping thriller that delves into the dark and sinister topic of domestic abuse, and the devastating effect that this kind of violence has on women, and their family and friends. It is lightened by Elle’s creative pursuits – she loves romantic comedies and her screen idols are Katherine Hepburn and Spencer Tracey. But the dark side of Elle and David’s relationship soon leeches into her creative pursuits with devastating effects.

There is a lot of societal judgement toward women who stay in an abusive relationship, but often it is not as simple as just walking away. Women don’t fall in love with men who are violent up-front, from the first date. They fall in love with men who are charming, charismatic, caring and tender who over time display tendencies such as derogative comments, isolating women by shutting out friends and family insisting on wanting to spend time alone together, the slow whittling away of self confidence, then the acceleration to violence – heated arguments that escalate to shouting, a push or shove, the firm grip on an arm that leaves bruises, and then slapping, hitting or punching. Afterwards, in the early stages there is intense remorse and guilt followed by good behaviour on the abuser’s behalf. The ‘bad’ man disappears and the ‘good’ man reappears once more, with vigour. This sliding between good and bad can go on for months or years, and this can then escalate from profuse apologies to blame: ‘You made me do it’ or ‘If only you didn’t make me so angry’. By the time the relationship has reached this point, the woman involved has quite often lost her sense of self, her friends have withdrawn because they are frustrated that she can’t see what they can ‘He’s a dick/asshole/loser’, and all she really craves is to be loved, for the ‘good’ man who first swept her off her feet to come back. It’s complex, the threads of abuse run deep and severing those intense emotions and staying strong takes immense courage and willpower.

I loved this book and think that Anna George has done a remarkable job of portraying the weaving, creeping, suffocating impact of being in an abusive relationship and how the impact flows outward in ever-growing concentric circles. The story is told from both Elle and David’s perspectives, and the pace is a clever blend of excruciating tension and  easing off to reflect on happier times, moments of joy,  followed by that slow escalation back to tension. The characters are real, credible. Watching Elle’s slow disintegration of self is frustrating, infuriating and heartbreaking. Her desire for love, her belief in love is so intense that you can understand her desire to try one more time, just one more time. The writing is tight, the imagery strong. There are no wasted words or over-explaining to be found. Anna George’s characters are full, well developed, and they will prompt a response in readers.

This book is so much more than just a murder-thriller. The complex topic will touch a nerve and readers will want to talk about it. Some may struggle with Elle’s behaviour and want to put the book down, or throw it across the room. Me, I felt such deep empathy for her, for her romantic-at-heart notions that I wanted to embrace her and give her the love she so deeply craved and deserved.

Overall, a brilliant book that I highly recommend you read, and I’m not the only one who thinks so. What Came Before was shortlisted for the 2015 Ned Kelly Awards and recently made the shortlist for the Sister’s in Crime 15th Davitt Awards.

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What Came Before by Anna George (Penguin 2014) ISBN: 9781743482780

Anna George Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Anna-George/297768810376242

NOTE: Abuse in any form – emotional or physical – is not okay, and it’s important to seek help. If you, or someone you know, are experiencing domestic abuse, help is available and in Australia and you can find out more here.

Reach Out: Domestic Violence Support: http://au.reachout.com/domestic-violence-support