The West Australian
Family fault lines explored
Love for our South West infuses Perth-born Tracy Farr’s new novel, writes Maureen Eppen
Perth born-and-raised author Tracy Farr has lived in Wellington, New Zealand, for the past 20 years but her love of the area around Busselton and Dunsborough is evident in her new novel, to be released next month.
Farr reimagines the Busselton suburb of Vasse as the setting for The Hope Fault, changing the landscape and location slightly to accommodate plot developments and specific scenes, creating in the process a place at once familiar and new.
“In my mind, Cassetown is near Vasse and I was thinking about calling it Vassetown, but decided to move it away a degree, with the little play that casse means ‘broken’ in French,” Farr explains, during a two-hour chat from her father’s South West home.
“This region is important to me — I’ve spent time here ever since I can remember. We used to come down for summer holidays to Dunsborough, and then later to Siesta Park. I spent some time in Cowaramup in my 20s, and these days my dad lives down here, so I’m up and down here when I visit.
“But I decided to set it in a fictional place rather than a specific real place partly because I required a geographical layout for the story that none of those areas quite provided, and it’s a bit of a nod to the importance in the novel of fiction and make-believe and naming, and of people and places having more than one name.”
With its title inspired by a scientific bulletin about a geological fault line in New Zealand’s South Island, The Hope Fault is a deceptively subtle depiction of family life, in which it seems at first that nothing much happens, yet so much simmers beneath the surface — a slow-burner that leaves the reader contemplating its many implications long after the last page is turned.
“I see The Hope Fault as being about how we map and navigate relationships, particularly those that are a little bit fluffy or complex to categorise — they’re not straightforward, like ‘wife’, or ‘son’, or ‘mother’,” Farr says.
“I see it as celebrating extended, messy, non-linear family; exploring some of the complexities that families hide, forget, or don’t want to talk about.”
The novel is divided into three parts — the first and last taking place during a long weekend in mid-winter, as Iris and her former husband Paul clean out and pack up their beach house after it has been sold, hosting one last party for family and friends.
Also staying at the house are Paul’s second wife and their unnamed infant daughter, Paul and Iris’s adult son Kurt, and 15-year-old Luce, the daughter of Paul’s twin sister and Iris’s best friend Marti, who arrives in time for the party.
The middle section of the book represents fragments from the life of the family matriarch Rosa, who is nearing her 100th birthday. Here, Farr uses a reverse-chronological time frame to reveal Rosa’s history, lending a sense of melancholy with the realisation that her remaining days are numbered.
“It’s a novel about family and, in particular, steps and exes and in-laws and aunties and fairy godmothers. And it’s very much about parents and partners who are missing, and the people who replace them,” she says.
Farr was determined to make this new novel as different as possible to her acclaimed debut, The Life and Loves of Lena Gaunt, which chronicles the extraordinary experiences of the self-absorbed eponymous character, an octogenarian, professional theremin player and junkie.
“I was determined The Hope Fault would have an ensemble cast of characters, rather than that singular, insular character of the first novel — and I really wanted that sense of rolling from one perspective to another, with the characters talking over one another in places,” she says.
“I wanted it to be contemporary in the way that the first novel wasn’t, and I wanted it to be constrained and contained in a single place over a short period of time, because the first novel has a broad sweep of time and travels all over the place.
“I hope it plays with time and with ways of telling stories, and I think it finds the poetry in science and the pattern and magic in landscape. In doing all of those things, it kind of stitches out a map of family — this particular family, but also Family, with a capital ‘F’.”
It was important to Farr that the story reflect the sort of real-life relationships in which former partners remain good friends long after breaking up. While the characters in The Hope Fault are fictional, those sorts of relationships are significant in her own life.
“The other relationship that I really wanted to capture was the aunty relationship, because I think aunties are really important — whether that’s aunties by blood or just friends of the family,” she says.
“The aunties keep everyone under control and toeing the line. They are the heart of everything — in a family sense and, beyond family, in a community sense.”