Summer at Mount Hope is by Australian author Rosalie Ham, who also wrote The Dressmaker and There Should be More Dancing. Unfortunately, Summer at Mount Hope lacked the cutting humour and style of the other two books.
The story is set in the 1890s. The heroine is Phoeba Crupp, who wants to run her father’s vineyard near Geelong alongside him. Other farmers in the district run sheep but are struggling due to the drought and depression. Phoeba’s family need the dry for the grapes, but they are also struggling financially and as a family. Phoeba’s parents are unhappily married and Phoeba’s mother hates the isolation of living in the country. The story’s theme is the lack of power that women have over their own futures.
Phoeba’s friend Hadley is keen to marry her, but she sees him as a friend rather than a lover. Phoeba’s mother wants her to marry Hadley to secure her future, but Phoeba is interested in someone else. Phoeba’s spoiled sister Lilith is doing her best to catch a husband and is aiming at the most eligible man in the district, the recently widowed squatter’s son.
Summer at Mount Hope, like this author’s other works, is a black comedy, but is not as polished or as enjoyable as this author’s other stories. The story is slow, jumps around, and I felt the slang and dialogue was wrong for the times. There were a few running jokes, such as Phoeba’s constant struggles with horses and the non-arrival of a peach-parer in the mail which got old quickly.
I also had issues with the timeline. The story starts on New Years Eve in 1893 and ends two months later, at the end of February, but during that time a character managed to catch a man, fall pregnant and drag him to the altar!
I was interested to read about the itinerant workers and the difficulties which arose when farmers tried to introduce machinery to their farms and thought that these sections of the book made it worth reading. I also enjoyed hearing about the characters going out one night to watch the electric lights being turned on for the first time in far-off Geelong.
The painting below is ‘View of Geelong’ by Eugene von Guerard from 1856. This hangs in the Geelong Art Gallery.
I hope Rosalie Ham publishes something new soon, as The Dressmaker left me wanting more and Summer at Mount Hope has not satisfied me. I know this author can do better!