The Year of the Farmer is by Australian author Rosalie Ham and will be enjoyed by readers who appreciate dark humour in a novel. Ham’s previous novels, The Dressmaker, Summer at Mount Hope and There Should Be More Dancing share this trait.
The Year of the Farmer is a contemporary story of life on the land featuring Mitch Bishop, whose drought-stricken farm somewhere up in the Riverina has been in his family for generations. Mitch is married to Mandy, who used to be the town bike (I know this is 2020, but in this small town these things still matter). No one likes Mandy, not even Mitch.
Mitch should have married his school sweetheart Neralie, but she left town to make a go of it in the city and left to his own devices, he succumbed to Mandy’s attentions. Mandy suckered Mitch into getting married by telling him that she was pregnant, but as everyone else in town knew, she couldn’t have fallen pregnant as she’d had “an infection.”
When Neralie returned to town to run the only pub in the area for 100 miles, Mitch and everyone else’s lives were turned upside-down.
Not only was Mitch’s marriage a mess, but the drought had been going on for years. Most punishing of all for him and other local farmers was their battle with the Water Authority Board to get enough water from the river to irrigate their land. To make things worse, a pack of townie’s dogs were killing sheep, rain at the wrong time was threatening to ruin the crops and Mandy’s constant need to make other people unhappy was adding considerably to the town’s woes.
There are multiple factions in the district, all with a different opinion about what was best for the river (and themselves). Corrupt politicians and townies were trying to make money from selling the water, developers wanted to siphon water into a man-made lake overlooked by a new apartment building and even the farmers had different volume requirements depending on what they were farming. The farmers weren’t in agreement with each other on other matters, either. Some were using chemicals which were detrimental to the river while others didn’t use chemicals on their crops when they should have which caused weeds to infiltrate their neighbours’ properties. I appreciated everyone’s point of view but think if I had to take a side I’d go with the Riparians, who had the health of the river at heart.
For those readers who struggle with cruelty towards animals that farmer’s consider to be vermin, be warned that a cull was required to set things right.
Not only is the humour in the Year of the Farmer dark, but it is mean. I really enjoyed it.