Angela has been reading and reviewing up a storm! Below is her review of the 2nd book shortlisted in the  The Stella Prize 2016. Read about the full shortlist here.

HopeFarmTitle: Six Bedrooms
Author: Peggy Frew
Publisher: Scribe
Category: Literary Fiction
Description: 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.

Book Review by Angela Long

There is no blueprint to being a parent and a child’s memory is the harshest critic. In Hope Farm, author Peggy Frew explores the intricacies of the mother-daughter relationship and the imprint that each leaves on the other. Silver is thirteen and on the cusp of womanhood. Her mother Ishtar has that look again. A new man—the enigmatic Millar, has entered her life, and together they are on the move, again, thousands of kilometres from Brisbane to an isolated farm in the Victorian countryside.  Another commune, another edgy group of strangers that have come together like a drift of leaves to find an illusive life, the promise of freedom. But this time is different, just as adolescence is a time of change, so too is Hope Farm.

For Silver, Ishtar is her anchor, the only person who has been a constant in her life and given her a semblance of stability. Ishtar is ethereal, beautiful and headstrong, and life for Silver is like standing in her shadow. With the benefit of an adults reflection, Frew paints a mournful picture of a young girl searching for control in a dysfunctional world. Perhaps too sensitive and too smart, Silver begins to question her mother’s choices. Of course Ishtar has her own ghosts and these are unknown to Silver. Written with the benefit of hindsight and the compromise of painful memories, Silver is conflicted with love and blame for Ishtar.  The tone is reminiscent of Emily Bitto’s Stella winning novel, The Strays.

Alternating throughout the narrative we share Ishtar’s diary style entries. These too have been written with time as reflection, but the adult Ishtar is childlike in her reminiscence. The reader glimpses into her past, headstrong, full of optimism and naivety. But light doesn’t exist without dark and Ishtar has been shaped by her circumstances. A young woman who has grown up without the protective net of family and who has had to find her own way through her melancholy and rejection.

With precise writing, Peggy Frew bares the effects of choice on her characters. Taking control of their own lives both Silver and Ishtar make choices that effect and change their lives, but like the ripple in a pond, they effect each other and those around them, some with devastating consequences; ones that they bury and live with, but that will haunt them to their death.

There are many threads to Hope Farm and sometimes these felt contrived for the narrative. Silver’s friendship with Ian is spontaneous and gives hope of a normal life but Ian’s actions are sometimes questionable and too dramatic. My interest would have been just as strong without some of the dramatic interludes. And in producing so many threads the ending lost some of its tension by closing all the loops and not leaving some of the questions unanswered.

In Hope Farm, there are conflicts, prejudice against the counter-culture lifestyle of the hippie commune, friends and secrets but these are peripheral to the breakdown of the mother-daughter relationship. The irony is that at Hope Farm there is very little hope.

For more information: Scribe Publications 

2016 Australian Women Writers Challenge: This book has been read and reviewed by Angela Long for Welcome to my Library for the 2016 Australian Women Writers challenge. For more information please see their website www.australianwomenwriters.comSupporting and promoting books by Australian women

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