Tracy Farr is a writer and former research scientist who grew up in Perth, Western Australia. For the past twenty years she has called New Zealand home, weaving the Aussie/Kiwi connection into both of her novels The Hope Fault, and The Life and Loves of Lena Gaunt. She is still a familiar face in the Australian writing scene and you can find gorgeous pics and details of her own book collection in Maureen Eppen’s bookish series, Shelf Awareness.
I throughly enjoyed her debut novel, The Life and Loves of Lena Gaunt, which was shortlisted for the Barbara Jefferis Award and the Western Australian Premier’s Book Award in 2014, and longlisted for the Miles Franklin Literary Award. Both of her novels were published by Fremantle Press.
The Hope Fault centres around a rainy weekend in a seaside town south of Perth. The family holiday home has been sold and the now-blended family has gathered to pack up their possessions and celebrate the life they once shared there. The unusual family dynamics are written about sensitively (Iris, her ex-husband and his new, much younger, wife and their baby coincide peacefully within the thin walls), and in a way that made me question my own preconceived ideas as to why anyone would want to put themselves in that position.
The novel opens slowly and maintains a comfortable ‘weekend down South’ pace. You can sense the quiet hush inside the old home as everyone settles in on the first night while torrential rain falls outside. I enjoyed the cosiness of the home, still a sanctuary despite a broken marriage, as well as the scenery that the South West is famous for.
A late night visit to hospital early in the novel had me predicting plot twists that would eventuate from such an incident. But the novel isn’t about ‘plot twists’. It’s a beautiful work of literary fiction, where the situation and characters drive the story. It is more about reflection than action and conflict. I enjoyed this approach; the slower pace allowed me to think more deeply and challenged my own assumptions and prejudices. The blended family under one roof, a seemingly overprotective mother, an unnamed child – but as the story unfolds, the reasons why things are like this become clear. It’s a good reminder for real life – don’t judge; you never know what events in a person’s background shaped the way they behave.
I found the structure of the book interesting. Whilst the beginning and end of the book centre around the weekend down South, the middle section is written in a different style, in Rosa’s point of view. Rosa is Iris’s mother, almost 100 years old and residing in a nursing home. She is not physically present during the weekend, but is very much a part of it, especially towards the end of the novel. Rosa’s chapters are cleverly written, working backwards in time with her voice becoming younger as the novel moves on, and provide further insight into Iris’s character. I also like the way Tracy names her chapters rather than numbers them – it’s like a giving a small clue about what’s to come.
The writing is stunning, the circumstances intriguing and the backstory appealing. Tracy has a way of describing everyday events in intricate detail; a vivid ‘show not tell’, providing delicious imagery.
This particular book had an added layer of enjoyment for me; a few of those ‘aha‘ moments when I read certain scenes. I attended Tracy’s Teaching the Monster to Speak workshop at the Perth Writers Festival in 2016 and remembered Tracy referring to her ‘work in progress’ at the time, her now published Hope Fault. I hope authors never underestimate the inspiration they give to new writers when sharing details of their work or writing processes during workshops and author talks. I love those little sparks of recognition I get when I read a novel that has shared snippets of its making.
There are some questions I would love answered about the baby and Rosa that weren’t tied up at the end, but the details are probably irrelevant anyway. One question that has been answered however, is why Tracy uses @hissingswan as her Twitter handle. If you’re curious too, have a look at the book’s resource notes on her website.