Farr, Tracy, The Hope Fault. Fremantle, WA: Fremantle Press, 2017. RRP: $29.99, 340 pp, ISBN: 9781925164404.
Write what you know. This is one of the most well-known and followed pieces of advice for writers. By doing this you are telling a realistic story, as well as one that many readers can identify with. Australian writer and former scientist, Tracy Farr (who currently lives in Wellington, New Zealand) has faithfully followed these tips in her second novel The Hope Fault and it has paid off.
The Hope Fault is set around a family’s reunion for the purpose of selling their long-time shared property — a property which holds many shared memories for them. Set in Australia, with flashback sections set in New Zealand, the story has an eclectic mix of characters, including an ex-wife, a new younger wife, a wild Aunt and a half-brother. Farr focuses on telling the story more through what isn’t said than what is. There is a dreamy, mysterious air to the way she writes. Her style of writing is reminiscent of a fairy tale, with focus being on the beautiful language used while the true meaning of the story remains hidden within the piece:
… The Girl and The Man merge together, no gap, no light, no space between them. They stay together for a minute, an hour, an age. Time stands still. Time is only now. Like music. Or comics: the now of the panel you’re reading, preceded by the past now of the panel before; followed by the future now, the next now. (105)
The language used is a distraction. Much like a family who are trying to appear perfect at surface level but have deeper issues underneath, the flowing nature of Farr’s prose acts as a way to hide the darker themes within the text. This technique creates a mood within the work that is both unsettling and deceivingly calming at the same time. An important character in the novel, Rosa, the mute bed-ridden grandmother, wrote fairytales in her youth. As some of the fairytales are included throughout the novel we are able to see just how similar they are to the rest of Farr’s work.
Most of the themes and metaphors in the story are so subtle that they are likely interpreted very differently between readers. One of the many themes in The Hope Fault is that of depression. Depression is shared by just a handful of characters throughout the novel. Those characters who don’t suffer from it are used as a contrast against those who do. The internal voice of the characters without depression are strikingly different those who do suffer from it.
The 21-year-old, Kurt, is the character most visibly affected by depression. His internal dialogue is an indication of this, but the way other characters view him and speak about him is evidence. His mother, Iris, and his Aunt Marti discuss their concern about him when he is not present.
‘Remember when you chose Kurt’s name?’
‘God, I know. What were we thinking? I was mesmerised by that beautiful Cobain boy—a boy in a dress! That hair! That stripy t-shirt!—his music, his everything.’
‘Did you ever think about changing your Kurt’s name? When—you know—’
‘Not really. Our Kurt was Kurt by then. You remember. He was only a year old, just walking, but we couldn’t imagine him not being Kurt. Rosa got stuck into us, but—’
Rosa had hauled her over the coals, ripped strips off her, ripping her a new one.
‘Change it! Just change it!’
‘I can’t, Mum. He’s Kurt. He is Kurt. It’s his name.’
Sometimes, though, a coldness passes over her, the thought that a name might determine fate. Her rational mind bats the idea away into the dark recesses of her consciousness. (273)
The language used for Kurt is repeated through his mother Iris. As Iris expresses her worry for her son, her internal dialogue matches Kurt’s, indicating an undiagnosed problem within Iris. Iris’s mother, Rosa, is one of the few characters who seems to be aware of this. Despite her condition as a mute woman suffering from Alzheimer’s, she is one of the most reliable narrators of the story. Although Rosa is unable to add her own dimension to the novel in Part One and Part Three, she is a vital addition to the story. The entirety of Part Two is told from her perspective and she offers much needed clarity to many of the characters.
But there is something prickly about the boy today, too, about Not So Little Kurt. He has a big black dog on his back. I used to say that to Iris, you’ve got a big black dog on your back, when she was in a mood like this. I would say it to the boy today, if I could speak. (113)
This is something that many readers can relate to. Undiagnosed mental disorders are common in many Australians, and those who are diagnosed—in this case, Kurt—are encouraged not to mention the issue.
This theme is something that many Australian readers can see themselves or a family member in. Some of the themes in The Hope Fault emerge slowly throughout the course of the novel while others hit the reader within one simple sentence. Farr challenges her readers to find these themes by using captivating words to distract the reader from what is really being said. The Hope Fault is one of those rare novels where new significance is taken from each reading.
Lucy Walding is a Queensland-based short story and travel writer. She holds a Bachelor of Arts (Creative and Professional Writing) from the Queensland University of Technology.