A snippet of a discussion about this book on the radio was enough to pique my interest. Hope Farm is the story of a young girl, Silver, growing up in a Hippie Commune. Her mother, Ishtar’s story is intertwined in the form of a diary.
I was a young mother in the 70s, living a very conventional life, but a part of me yearned for a commune. The notion of living with a small community of like-minded people, whose children would be constant playmates with mine, and adults who shared household duties, home grown vegetables, and lively discussions about interesting subjects, sounded idyllic.
But I didn’t know any real hippies, and even if I had, I’m sure the reality wouldn’t have lured me to give up the comforts of my home and my independence.
This book confirmed that for me with its vivid descriptions of what I suspect many communes were like, and I know would not have liked it.
Hope Farm is written in the adult voice of the child, Silver, as she remembers her thirteen year-old self living at Hope Farm, and becoming aware of the flawed people in her life. Intertwined with her story, are diary entries written by her mother, Ishtar.
The first thing that appealed to me when I began reading this book, was the descriptive writing. I loved the way Peggy Frew’s words seemed to flow with a randomness that connected to the unwieldy life Ishtar, and by default Silver, led.
Long before I reach Ishtar’s hut and long before I reach the gate to Hope itself, just short of where the bridge flattens its back and the sunken runnel of the creek sends up it’s cool vapours, my vision slips, slurring like the tyres of my city hatchback on the loose surface. I’m skidding. I’m sliding. I’m going too fast, into a spin; I’m slamming into a tree. Or I’m slowing down, losing power — I drift to a standstill.
But it wasn’t long before the excessive descriptions began to irritate me, especially when she described the creek, a place she’d go to read and hide from the awful reality of life at Hope Farm. The sentences were often overwhelming, lengthy, and rambling.
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 amber light deep down, and the mossy looking spotted fish that lazed there.
The chapters aren’t numbered or marked in any way, which befuddled me when suddenly I found myself reading something written in a starkly different voice, and using a different font. The grammar, spelling, and lack of punctuation made me think it was a mistake, that somehow the editor had overlooked it. It took a couple of these seemingly random intrusions into the story before I realised that these sections were excerpts from Ishtar’s diary.
One time he was waiting he left the car with its bonnet up left his tools out on the concrete he stepped in to the footpath and blocked my way.
With all the lengthy descriptive paragraphs, the story failed to develop any interest for me for some time. I didn’t really care about the characters, or what happened to them, until two new characters arrived in the story, Ian who became Silver’s friend, and a bit later, Dan. It was also at this point that Ishtar’s diary entries seemed to give the story an added interesting element.
If the author had cut even half of her lengthy descriptions from the story, it would have been a much shorter tale. As it was, not a lot happened, although once I cared about Silver, the story gave me a few suspenseful moments, and the climax was fairly dramatic.
I’m glad I read this book. I’m interested in mother/child relationships, and in the end, I felt sorry for Ishtar, a victim of her time. She was tossed into a tough life at seventeen, and made choices I’m very glad I never had to make, Her actions, or lack of action, had a profound effect on her daughter, who chose a very different life path when given the chance.
And that is what I think this book is largely about, the circumstances we find ourselves in, the choices we make, and how they can dictate our future.
Such a fickle thing, the hand of fate.