Posted by: Lisa Hill | May 20, 2017

The Hope Fault, by Tracy Farr

Tracy Farr is an author I discovered when her debut novel, The Life and Loves of Lena Gault was longlisted for the Miles Franklin award in 2014.  (See my review here).  The novel went on to be shortlisted for the Barbara Jefferis and the WA Premier’s awards, and it’s been published in the US and the UK as well.  The Hope Fault is her second novel.

I’ve tagged Tracy as a Kiwi in my Meet a Kiwi Author series but although she’s lived in New Zealand for twenty years, she grew up in Australia, and The Hope Fault is set in a fictional town called Cassetown in south-western Australia.  It feels like the Margaret River region on a very wet day, though the action of the novel takes place almost entirely inside a house.  But the rain begins as the extended family arrives at the weekender that now has to be packed up and vacated, and the full-on, pelting deluge persists throughout the weekend.  They can always hear it from inside guttering and gushing, sinking into the earth, wetting, muddening, all damp and glorious.  Sometimes they feel a bit anxious about the strength and intensity of this rainstorm, but their house is like an ark, with representative souls to carry on into the future, whatever the rain may bring.

A place of family memories, the house brings together for this one last time: Iris, the quiet, reliable one who stitches everything together, and her son Kurt; her ex-husband Paul, his new wife Kristin and their nameless baby; and (arriving late) Marti, the ‘life of the party’ sister of Iris.  Marti’s daughter Luce travelled down with Iris, not with her mother, for reasons that become obvious. Not able to join them is Rosa, mother of Iris and Marti, and now mute after a stroke and in aged care.  But she is not forgotten – the family is planning celebrations for her 100th birthday which coincides with Kurt’s 21st.

The novel reveals itself through expansive quotidian dialogue, and the inner thoughts of Iris, Luce and Kurt.  The reader hears the voices of Marti, Paul and Kristen (and of course the baby) but they are mostly undifferentiated family babble:

Luce says, ‘There’s got to be a ceremony.  Like a party.  You can’t just start calling her a name, after all this time.
‘Yeah, yeah, that’s the plan, Lu.  A party.  On Monday.  Here.’
‘A christening, but without the Christ.’
‘With fairy godparents.’
‘Of course.’
‘What about Jacko and Alba?’
‘What about them?’
‘They’ll be p__ off.’
‘Nah, they’ll be relieved.  They’ve been hassling us about the name ever since she was born.’
‘Since before.  Ever since we told them I was pregnant.’
‘But they’ll be p__ off not to be here.  Not to be invited.  Her only grandparents.
‘If you don’t invite them, they might show up anyway.  Like magic.  Cast a spell.  A curse. Like a pricking finger.’
‘But you never have evil grandparents in a fairy story.  Stepmothers, yes. Not grandparents.  I think we’re safe.’
Luce looks at Kristin when Iris says stepmothers, but Kristin doesn’t seem to mind.  (p.75)

But, as always, it’s the introverts who are the most interesting characters.  It’s through the private thoughts of Iris, Kurt and Luce, that the story gains its narrative drive.  For a novel where not much happens, there are surprising moments when the reader feels a sense of anxiety when characters get lost literally and spiritually, when they leave the cosy safety of the house and stumble around down at the bay, and when mobile phones reveal themselves to be as unreliable as they are.

But what I liked best about this novel was the middle section, in Rosa’s silenced voice, travelling backwards through time. This section is introduced by a fragment of poetry by Kristin Hersh:

One hundred fingerprints I hear
A hundred linger in my ear
Counting backwards I count you in.

The brief chapters – some only a paragraph – are titled ‘100 – now’; ’99. Two hours ago’.  ’98. Two days ago’, counting back the slow days in aged care but gathering speed as they reveal Rosa’s fascinating life and some family secrets.  I like this because it reminds us all that people in aged care are real people with real lives and they deserve respect as well as care.  I got to know some of the residents at my father’s aged care home and they were all such interesting people who taught me things I didn’t know.  One of my favourites was Zeila who loved to dance and had been a make-up artist for brides in Sri Lanka.  She laughed wryly when I said how nice it must have been to be working with people who were happy on their wedding day, and corrected me.  No, they were crying, she said, because they were arranged marriages and the women did not want to marry the groom.  Our assumptions are so often wrong…

The cover design is by Nada Backovic, and it is just perfect for this wise and illuminating novel.

PS (an hour later) Oops, I almost forgot to mention the title… (and *smacks forehead* I had bookmarked it especially!)

Kristin finds a book of poems in the bedroom, and has this to say:

‘The poems are good.  They’re beautiful, simple.  He was – it turns out – a scientist.  A geologist.  The centre of his book of poems is a haiku based around this idea of fault.  But it turns out to be a literal fault, a geological one, that he worked on as a young student, as a geologist. (p. 66)

Tracy Farr has structured this book around a fault line too, with fractures that mirror geological fault lines…

Author: Tracy Farr
Title: The Hope Fault
Publisher: Fremantle Press, 2017
ISBN: 9781925164404
Source: Kingston Library

Available from Fishpond: The Hope Fault or direct from Fremantle Press


Responses

  1. Is it difficult to tell who is speaking?

    • Sometimes, but it actually doesn’t matter most of the time. As I say, it’s just family babble.

  2. I wonder whether Farr sees herself as (West) Australian. Yes, I know, an old argument. Perhaps she is an Enzedder by residence and an Aussie by literary tradition. ‘Cassetown’ sounds like references to ‘Vasse’ and maybe Bussleton, both of which are down Margaret R. way.

    • She says in her bio that she sees herself as both.
      Which makes sense, because you know that NZ very nearly federated with the Australian states…

  3. Love the cover too.

    • It’s good, isn’t it? It’s just a Getty image, but it’s very appropriate to the book.

      • Yes, it truly seems like you are looking through the window.

  4. Another book to add to my never-ending wish list. I nearly bought this the other day…


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