Quiet, thoughtful work draws readers in

Tracy Farr's The Hope Fault is both poetic and quietly, cleverly claustrophobic. 

Tracy Farr
Fremantle Press


The rain pours down on Friday, Saturday and Sunday as a group is marooned in their holiday home in Cassetown, Geologue Bay, Australia. They have gathered, all six of them, to put the traces of their existence there in boxes, in preparation for sale.

Among them is an unnamed baby, and so they have decided to mark the end of an era in several ways: with a naming ceremony, a combined birthday celebration for two reaching the landmark years of 21 and 100, and overall, a "house-cooling'' party.

The rain continues to hammer on the tin roof as teen Luce hides out in her room, technologically engaged. Meanwhile, 20-year-old Kurt creates through storyboards. Both feel exterior sensations strongly, whether the unnecessary killing of a snake ("the beautiful slidey slip of it, the no-ears glide of it, the slink of it''), or the fall of rain or light. Kurt puts in visual form what he observes from the bay of fleeting individuals, animals, or movements of shapes on water.

His mother also records visually as she embroiders, stitching people and colours into a personal history. Her own mother, Rosa, likewise left her mark, as a reteller of fairy tales.

There is a lot more going on in this narrative than appears on the surface. The present-day story above hugs the core, which is Rosa's remembrances as a young woman. One hundred short vignettes dance through the main part of the book, tripping through the years haphazardly and revealing hidden stories and grief.

Figuratively and literally, much is internal, and this rebounds through the parallel imagery set off in the title. Rosa's involvement as a young woman in studying the Hope Fault in New Zealand unleashes memories. The fault is both a single trace and discontinuous fault lines branching off. Her entries tell of a geologist's writing, reading and mapping of the land; of the slippage of language and earth; of a continuous changing form.

Australian-born Farr has lived in New Zealand for two decades. This is her second novel and it traps the reader consumingly in a claustrophobic setting, where characters are all constrained but intense.

The language is poetic but also sparse, and much is told in the gaps between.

The reader comes away from a quiet and thoughtful work with glimpses, of situations shown barely, and relationships and states in constant questioning and upheaval.

Jessie Neilson is a University of Otago library assistant.


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