Not Hope Farm

Journal: 038

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Hope Farm (2015), shortlisted for the 2016 Stella, is one of those worthy books that travel around with me but which for some reason I resist reading. Luckily, last Tuesday, its time came. I finished the Total Devotion Machine review, reached into my bag for the next cab off the rank, hesitated over Junkie – 3 SF/experimental in a row?; Lily Brett – but so soon after New York?; and so spent the rest of the day, not unhappily at all, with Peggy Frew.

What had put me off of course was the name, I’m rarely in the mood for a rural idyll. Hope Farm is the name of a run down farm rented by hippies in – I’m guessing – Gippsland, the Strezlecki Ranges east of Melbourne. Thirteen year old Silver and her mother Ishtar are taken there by Miller, one of an endless succession of men briefly put on a pedestal by Ishtar (the better to see their feet of clay?).

The story is framed as a fortyish Silver looking back on a troubled childhood …

That was last Wednesday week. And there I ran out of time.

I remember a bit more, Ishtar an intelligent woman with a reading difficulty, her story childishly written, running alongside Silver’s as we gradually learn how both women got to be where they are now. Life for the orphan Silver a series of insecure dependencies from foster home to Ashram to hippiedom and rural, communal living. Reminiscent of Helen Garner of course, but Garner who is quite clear on the rules and difficulties of urban share houses, never quite says how she got there in the first place.

Fascinating for me, as these people and more particularly their theories were very much in the air when I was in my twenties. I chose a different path, shared housing a convenience rather than a way of life, but at different times at least considered going bush and scratching out a living.

“And there I ran out of time”. I was a few days in Melbourne because Dragan, back from two months furlough, had found me some loading ex-Perth where Sam had none, but had then found ways to divert me all round Victoria and southern NSW while he rushed his own trucks in from Adelaide and Sydney to grab the available freight and leave me stranded.

Still, I had a pleasant weekend with Mum, got some reading and writing done. Got a promise of a load home from another carrier and by late Wednesday was on my way. Missed sweet (?) sixteen’s birthday. Parked up Saturday arvo. Friends, the Longvales, old family friends from the very first days our kids were at kindy together and on through primary school, high school, functional and dysfunctional teenagerhoods, weddings, divorces. Friends who one particularly messy year had taken Lou in when Milly and I couldn’t, had my flat for a few weeks, and so I stayed with Milly. Not long enough to wear out my welcome.

On Sunday we had a family dinner at Clancy’s in Freo, where the kids have plenty of space to play. Kimbofo should have come, she lives just across the road, but sadly was unwell. Tuesday we had dinner with the Longvales. Otherwise it was a quiet few days of cryptics, quiches, left over birthday cake, wine, more cake, and good vego cooking.

A mate with a few acres in outer suburbia had earlier offered me parking for my truck and trailers; Dragan looked away when I dropped in with paperwork; his sister requested my fuel card. Without words an era in my working life came to an end.

On Tuesday I secured a part load to Mackay, north Qld; thought I had another, high paying load to Kununurra in the far north of WA which would have involved a trip around the top; there were difficulties with it being oversize; it fell through, was revived; fell through again. And meanwhile between socialising and not being able to settle down, I was neither writing nor reading much. Not much except American politics as their “president” begins spiralling towards an early exit and almost certain jail.

A Toowoomba-based carrier I had been chasing for ages came good with a load for my back trailer; the Kununurra load came up again and I regretfully knocked it back; and today, Sunday I’m in Port Augusta on my way to Mackay and Townsville, diagonally across the continent, for the first time in eighteen years. Ok, my seven hours break is up, I’d better fire up and get moving. (map)

Up and over Horricks Pass, too narrow and winding for B Doubles but legal and an hour quicker than the alternative, through the Flinders Ranges, through Peterborough, old railway junction town of lovely stone cottages and shop fronts and out onto the endless desert plains of red dirt, saltbush and acacia.

I’ve stopped again at Broken Hill, to get this off, will sleep somewhere short of Cunnumulla tonight and around Clermont tomorrow. Who knows what my next review will be. Not Lorna Doone whose words fill today and all of tomorrow probably, the damp green fields of Devon a strange contrast to the Australian outback. But something will come up, it always does and I have to have a day off before the end of the week.

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Recent audiobooks 

Graham Greene (M, Eng), The Quiet American (1955) – Lit.Fic.
Kurt Vonnegut (M, USA), Galapagos (1985) – SF
Nina George (F, Ger), The Little Paris Bookshop (2013) – Contemporary
Amitar Ghosh (M, Ind), Sea of Poppies (2008) – Contemporary
BV Larson (M, USA), Tech World (2014) – SF
RD Blackmore (M, Eng), Lorna Doone (1869) – Classic

Currently reading

Peggy Frew, Hope Farm
William Burroughs, Junkie
Connell & Marsh ed.s, Literature and Globalization

33 thoughts on “Not Hope Farm

  1. I enjoyed reading your post one million times more than I did reading Hope Farm. From my review of Hope Farm: “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).”

    I was interested to hear her speak about child narrators at the Melbourne Writers Festival but I have no intention of reading any more of her work (unless of course it appears on the Stella list).

    Anyway, Frew or not, I enjoy your reflections on what you’re reading against what your seeing out the truck window.


    • Me too, Kate. I have no idea why Frew gets the attention that she does.
      From my review: Hope Farm … confirms my suspicion that the Miles Franklin judges are fixated on novels about dysfunction, grief and misery.
      What interests me here LOL is that you say you would read one of hers if it appears on the Stella list.
      I am meaner than you are: I wouldn’t read her again if #PigsMightFly she were nominated for the Nobel Prize!

      Liked by 1 person

      • It’s the ‘completer’ in me regarding reading short lists! To be clear, if she was on a long list, I’d wait to see if she made the cut. If she was shortlisted, I’d leave her book until last, on the off-chance I run out of time. Needless to say, I’ll spit if Islands gets listed for the Stella next year!

        Liked by 1 person

      • I used to be a completist too, at least with the Miles Franklin, but these days I think life is too short to read books that (based on previous experience with the author) I know I won’t like. It’s curiously liberating.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Sounds like I should do you guys a favour and be the one to review Islands. I don’t have lists that I need to complete, though I will do at least one more David Ireland (which I’m finding hard work), and I guess too that I’m slowly working my way through pre WWII Australian women, and pre-Jane Austen.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Me three.
        I failed to finish Hope Farm. Too many other books I really want to read to keep in with one that wasn’t working for me.
        The main thing I remember is the hippie mum infuriating me. I eventually threw the book across the room.


      • Brona, I must be more tolerant of hippy mums than you guys. And I thought Frew got the voice right – a woman struggling to express herself despite a reading disability, not a stupid person at all (though not a very functional mother).


    • I had it in my mind that Hope Farm, like say The Hands and The Choke, was one of those recent books I should read. Obviously I wasn’t paying attention! I must say, in light of the comments that follow, that I didn’t mind it, and It’s probably the first time in years that I’ve read a book straight through in one day.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Been shopping at Mary Who? Townsville. Bought Islands and Claire Coleman’s The Old Lie (4 or 5 Kinsellas in new releases, which was a surprise). Bloody public holiday Monday so should have Islands review up by then.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I found found Hope Farm a bit meh & over-hyped, but I adored Loorna Doone. I made my brother visit Doone Valley with me on our UK travels. We had an excellent Devonshire tea in a butter factory.


    • It’s a long time since I had a Devonshire tea, and never in Devon (the highlight of my culinary life was a paella in Madrid). When I pulled up last night Lorna’s grandfather had just died. I’m enjoying the story though Blackmore is very Eve Langley – in a mid Victorian sort of way – as he constantly drifts off into lyrical descriptions of countryside.


    • It sounds like difficult country with its moors and bogs. Is it still remote? Or have motorways and fast trains ended that? My biggest difficulty is with servants speaking dialect – I get about one word in three.


      • Parts of it are still pretty wild – there are a few roads which cross it but its not somewhere you want to be on a wild night. Some of the land is dangerous to walk in because there are hidden bogs into which you can disappear


      • I got to the disappearing in a bog bit. Gruesome! In fact late today, the third day, I got to the end. The bits after “I do” (or “I will”) got my heart racing and I was ready to chuck the book away.


  3. Oh, following Kate’s and Lisa’s comments about Hope Farm I had to go and reread my own review to see what I thought of it. I said “the voices of the two lead characters are also strong and distinctive (I particularly liked the way in which Ishar’s lack of education is reflected in her grammatical errors and often stilted English), but there’s something about the story that never quite rings true”. I said that I was left with a “so what?” feeling when I reached the end.

    And sorry I didn’t get to join you at Clancy’s. Next time!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I liked Ishtar’s voice and thought it was well done. I thought some reviewers confused her reading difficulty with stupidity and I’m a bit sorry I didn’t get to write a considered review.

      We’re often at Clancy’s so there’ll definitely be a next time.


      • I had it in my head that Hope Farm was one of those books that ‘everyone’ had read. There was a whole mob of them – Salt Creek, The Choke, The Hands. I have an Audible account now, I should check the contemporary Australian selections and do some catching up.


  4. I hope you enjoyed the Vonnegut book. He’s both loads of fun and can be a serious writer. I was surprised to realize how old he was when he passed. If you like Vonnegut, you should definitely read Tom Robbins. I truly enjoy (and taught one semester!) Even Cowgirls Get the Blues. I found his memoir, Tibetan Peach Pie, quite delightful and hilarious, too. Robbins is quite a bit older, too (almost 90, I think?) so his memoir covers decade after decade, and it’s neat to see what changes as he makes his way through life.


    • I thought I’d answered you. I must have thought up an answer and then not written it down. That happens too when I’m writing to family – I’m unable to recollect what I actually wrote as distinct from what I thought about writing. And I write such long letters in my head that when it comes time to put them down I leave bits out. I used to do that too when I was writing exam papers – leave out steps in the argument that my mind had already progressed beyond.

      What were we saying? Ah. Vonnegut. He’s an interesting and inventive writer. Another of the SF titans who is much more than just SF. I’ve seen (and enjoyed) the movie ECGTB, but it was a log time ago, 20 years? I don’t often look at the non-fiction row for audiobooks, but I’ll look out for Tibetan Peach Pie.


      • I think you would like Tibetan Peach Pie. Tom Robbins is kind of sassy, like you 😉

        I, too, forget what I thought vs. what I said. I start many sentences with “I’m not sure if I already said this or just thought it, but . . .”

        Liked by 1 person

  5. Your trucking life certainly takes youto some interesting places. I have Hope Farm on my tbr pile – perhaps it might stay there for a while….


    • I make it take me, I’ve done too many boring runs and too few interesting ones. I’m in Townsville tonight and have already managed to book a load back to south Qld from Atherton, inland and south of Cairns. As for Hope Farm, I think it’s readable, maybe the semi-literate mother takes some getting used to, but as I say, she has a reading difficulty, not low intelligence or education and I think she’s well done.


    • I’m not in a position to give you a link right now, but the Palmer Report posts on an hour by hour basis each step as Trump slides inevitably to where he is impeached, resigns, is convicted of Treason, then he and his family, of corruption.


  6. I always thought “truckers” had a quiet life. Always driving but away from family and friends. From reading this post re your activities and reading list sounds like quiet time wouldn’t go amiss. Happy reading.

    On Sun, 29 Sep. 2019, 11:43 am theaustralianlegend, wrote:

    > wadholloway posted: “Journal: 038 Hope Farm (2015), shortlisted for the > 2016 Stella, is one of those worthy books that travel around with me but > which for some reason I resist reading. Luckily, last Tuesday, its time > came. I finished the Total Devotion Machine review, reac” >


    • It’s a very quiet life when it comes to talking to other people, but I get days off, in Melb and in Perth. And I’m having one now, in Townsville. I’m about to walk down the main street and check out their book shops. 20 years ago I had more energy and would join the local club for a beach swim.


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