The impact of the hippy lifestyle on the children who have not freely chosen to live this way, has been explored in memoir and fiction, including Ewan Morrison’s novel, Close Your Eyes, and, to a degree, Claire Vay Watkins’ Gold Fame Citrus. The unusual childhood, focused around an intense mother-daughter relationship, also brought to mind Jo McMillan’s novel, Motherland, both, albeit from disparate ideologies, rife with hypocrisy and contradictions. As she matures, Silver begins to rage against the regime that has left her both under and overprotected (p202-3):
There was some kind of rule … to do with listing but pretending not to understand – and now I was breaking it … Why did she always treat me like this, never protecting me from anything and then when I tried to enter her world … slamming down a shutter?
But it’s hard for a daughter to be as angry as she needs to be with a mother as flaky as Ishtar, whose (p119):
hands gripped the upper sleeves of her own jumper as if underneath was a structure that had not been fitted together properly, an unsteady frame that might collapse at any moment
whose drifting off into depression, while not quite so melodramatic, reminded me of Sofia’s mother Rose and Veblen’s mother from other novels I’ve reviewed recently.
But Ishtar was herself only a teenager when she gave birth at seventeen. Alternating sections extracted from her diary, reveal the challenges she has faced in sexual ignorance, exploitation by a neighbour and the fight against the pressure to give up her baby for adoption. Taking refuge in the ashram, her attempts to be a doting and devoted mother are thwarted by the insistence that all adult members take an equal share of the work and her floundering in the face of insufficient female support, reminiscent of Ari in After Birth.
Hope Farm is about the fragility of attachment and learning about different forms of love, some of which bring as much hurt as pleasure. Although I found it overall extremely compassionate account of wounded people doing their best, it took me a while to settle into it. This was partly because it read as if Silver was hovering slightly above her story (due perhaps to her looking back on these experiences and an adult) and because of switching to a sans serif font, with the omission of apostrophes (presumably to reflect her problems with literacy), something I struggled with in Ryan Ireland’s novel. (We all have our quirks, and some readers can’t stand dialogue without speech marks, which is fine by me, but I’m surprised I didn’t list quirky text as one of the reasons I might give up on a novel – it actually affects me viscerally.)
However, by about page 200, the scenery is painted and the actors in position to progress headlong into tragedy and, from this point, I couldn’t put it down. There are no heroes or villains in this story, as in real life, just a bunch of damaged people in search of a secure base while condemned by their own neediness never to find it. A particularly poignant part of the novel is when Ishtar and Silver are obliged to leave the farm to take refuge in an abandoned miner’s cottage where, despite its state of dilapidation, the girl is unexpectedly happy to have (p207):
what I had always fantasised about: a house that was just mine and Ishtar’s, where we lived together, just the two of us. In a strange and completely unexpected way I had gotten what I’d always wanted
What becomes of the mother-daughter bond after this made me want to revisit some of my own writing about adolescence as not only about forging independence, but as a second chance, albeit disguised as something very different, to create the conditions that weren’t possible in infancy. But that’s for another place. Thanks to Australian publishers Scribe for my review copy and for the slot on the Hope Farm blog tour.