Picador, Pan Macmillan Australia 2018
Having recently re-read The Dressmaker upon the opening of the exhibition of the film costumes at the National Film and Sound Archive, I was fortunate to speak with Rosalie Ham about her work. This sent me to her latest novel, The Year of the Farmer and I am also now reading my way through her back catalogue.
In The Year of the Farmer, Rosalie Ham shows us the same wit, sharp observation and finally a forgiving affection for the people of her chosen setting, the small Australian country town. Topically, this book focusses on the scarcity, the supply and the purchase of water, and all the scope for dirty dealing that this entails.
A topical theme, however, would not enough to absorb us and it is with consummate skill that the author pulls us into her town and the complex relationships amongst her characters. She has a fine touch in portraying nobility and wickedness, in leading us to fall for her heroes and heroines and in tempering our condemnation of the ‘bad people’ – for life is never so black and white and neither is literature at its best.
The always GOOD and handsome Mitchell Bishop somehow never becomes a stereotype, perhaps because of the mistakes he makes and the understanding he has of them. His love for Neralie, for his donkeys, his father and his dog is endearing, never pathetic. Neralie, equally endowed at last with self-knowledge after a necessary flight out of the town to the big city life of Sydney, is another person we want to triumph – and we are confident she will in the end. The awful Mandy and the nasty greedy water board folk make great villains but this is magically never melodrama. Other townfolk, farmers and hippie blow ins are similarly grey and nuanced.
This is another filmic work by Rosalie Ham – graphically described with many memorable and amusing scenes populated by Characters with a capital C. Her sensitive painting of the Australian landscape and its inhabitants, human and other, also draws the reader entirely into the world of rural Australia in transition to the 21st century, fitbits, telling time on the mobile phone, internet shopping and all.