A fiendishly funny comedy of clashing personalities and competing interests.
Mitch Bishop is having a bad year. He’s up against it on all fronts. The Water Authority wants him to upgrade the channel on his struggling farm, an exorbitant expense he can ill afford. His conniving, rotten-to-the-core wife, Mandy, is working against his best interests, literally sleeping with the enemy. She’s got the hots for Stacey, an easily corrupted official from the Water Authority, and does some horse trading of her own during their afternoon trysts at the local pub.
When Neralie McIntosh moves back to their small town after a five year stint making money in Sydney, the sparks are set to fly. Neralie was Mitch’s only true love. It was only through a series of unfortunate circumstances that Mitch ended married to the awful Mandy. But Mandy isn’t about to let Mitch and Neralie live happily ever after. Over her dead body. Not that she’s jealous, or wants Mitch for herself. Her interests are purely financial. She wants to reap whatever the farm’s worth and is ready to trade the property’s water rights.
Rosalie Ham’s The Year of the Farmer is a fiendishly funny novel set in a small farming community. It has a wide, fully fleshed cast of characters, all convincingly drawn and true to life. The dialogue is whip smart and sharply observed. Ham really captures the laconic, clipped, no-nonsense language of the Aussie pub, shopping strip and home kitchen, with all its humour and blunt irony. This is an Australia you’ll easily recognise. The plot is a chunky, interlocking affair, dealing with farming politics, pointless bureaucracy, government agency corruption, fast moving town gossip and fractious personal relationships.
At the centre of The Year of the Farmer is Mandy, an astonishingly malevolent force. She’s a bad seed who delights in ruining everyone’s day. She scratches a drawing of a penis and testicles on an enemy’s car, leaves the lights on so her elderly father-in-law will have to get up out of his chair, hopes the children at the local playground will break their necks and generally makes life intolerable. Mandy’s a brilliant comic invention, almost an Australian version of Thackery’s crass Becky Sharp. We know she will eventually have to get her comeuppance, as a small town can’t survive such a poisonous force, oozing bile everywhere.
The dedication at the start of the book is “For the Hams, farmers all”, and every page is full of intricate farm knowledge - of animals, weather, machinery, the land, water, farming science. Rosalie Ham seems to write from personal experience. The style and unflinching humour shows someone determined to lay the truth of farming life bare. She doesn’t eulogise the wonders of living on the land, but sticks to the unglamorous reality of petty fighting, miserable luck and the few yet considerable pleasures that the farming affords.
Tough, complex and funny, a cathartic read that also mesmerises with its skill, intelligence and wit.
The Year of the Farmer, by Rosalie Ham. Picador. RRP: $32.99