The Year of the Farmer: not the story you’d expect about small-town, rural Australia

The Year of the Farmer book review

What is this about?: It’s a story about lost loves, bad marriages and vengeance. And corruption.

What else is this about?: Life on a farm, during a drought. Corruption on a farm during a drought. It gets epic.

Blurb

In a quiet farming town somewhere in country New South Wales, war is brewing.

The last few years have been punishingly dry, especially for the farmers, but otherwise, it’s all Neralie Mackintosh’s fault. If she’d never left town then her ex, the hapless but extremely eligible Mitchell Bishop, would never have fallen into the clutches of the truly awful Mandy, who now lords it over everyone as if she owns the place.

So, now that Neralie has returned to run the local pub, the whole town is determined to reinstate her to her rightful position in the social order. But Mandy Bishop has other ideas. Meanwhile the head of the local water board – Glenys ‘Gravedigger’ Dingle – is looking for a way to line her pockets at the expense of hardworking farmers already up to their eyes in debt. And Mandy and Neralie’s war may be just the chance she was looking for…

A darkly satirical novel of a small country town battling the elements and one another, from the bestselling author of The Dressmaker.

Stars: 3.5/5

The Year of the Farmer  is set in a small farming town — I’ve said before they provide the best locations for Australian thrillers, but I’m expanding my reading and now the location works for stories about lost loves and wives who are pissed at everything, especially their husbands. Not to mention the Water Board who are out to screw the farmers.

The book is a slow burn, introducing a slice of life in a small rural town. You know how you feel on a lazy summer’s day where everything feels languid? That’s how the beginning feels. Readers are introduced to Mitch, whose farm is in trouble, but is really in such deeper trouble than that because his marriage is awful, and he secretly messages his ex Neralie who left town years ago. 

Mandy is Mitch’s wife, the woman everyone in the town knows trapped Mitch into a marriage he didn’t want. She lives with Mitch and his father at the farm, and it becomes very clear they’re more like roommates who can’t quite get rid of each other more than anything. 

Mandy knows that everyone compares her to Neralie, Mitch’s former girlfriend and she’ll always be found wanting. So, when she finds out everyone has been keeping the fact the Neralie bought the pub in town and is coming back, well, shit hits the fan, and Mandy is in no mood to be nice — so she hits her husband where it hurts the most. 

Water. Water is everything to a farmer, and as we’re in a drought right now, there’s a lot in the news and papers about how tough things are for farmers. So you can well imagine when Mandy chooses a side in the ongoing battle between the Water Board (who control the water in the town; and allocate it to farmers — it gets complex) and her husband — and it’s not her husband’s side, she’s throwing down the gauntlet.

As the Water Board guys attempt to manipulate the farmers (and Mitch) for their benefit, the Mandy-Mitch-Neralie triangle plays out. Mitch is a good guy, but he can’t stand up to Mandy, and Neralie had to go away to realise she really did want the small-town life, and Mitch — which you know, a bit late given he’s married now.

This is satire, in a most unexpected setting, which actually makes it all the funnier. But what I thoroughly enjoyed is even as I didn’t like Mandy, I understood why she did everything she did. I understood Mitch, who was pushed to the edge by fighting his wife, the Water Board and trying to hold on to his farm and his water under a mountain of debt. And Neralie, whose reputation has more of a presence than she does in the book, who had to go away to realise what she wanted — readers will understand her too. 

Overall, a thoroughly satisfying, unexpected book – – just the sort of introduction I needed to Rosalie Ham.

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