My introduction to Mount hope and the Crupp family was via an obstinate horse called Spot stranding Maude, and her two daughters Phoeba and Lilith, in a slime infested dam on the way to Church. I fell in love with Spot instantly.
Mount Hope is a rural town not far from Geelong Australia in the 1890’s, is the setting of Rosalie Ham‘s novel Summer at Mount Hope. It is just a whistlestop for the train and home for a small community who hope to make their fortune on the back of white gold… wool.
Robert Crupp however, has a different vision altogether and is in process of establishing the region’s first vineyard. A vigneron in wool country. Very daring.
Phoeba is the oldest daughter, strong willed, determined to stand up to the conventions of her time and be a vigneron alongside her father. She is not interested in marriage but has set her heart on inheriting the vines established by her and her father at the base of the rocky outcrop.
Lilith is her self-absorbed, self-centred sister whose prime objective is to as little as possible, be as selfish as possible on her way to finding a rich husband and saying goodbye to the ramshackle home amongst the vines. The girls’ mother, Maude is of course fully supportive of that idea.
Maude’s focus, other than marrying off her daughters, is to play a game of one-upmanship with her neighbour Widow Pearson. Not so much as keeping up with the Joneses but outdoing them all together.
Hadley and Henrietta Pearson are Phoeba’s best friends. They too have great ambition for a better life and face obstacles head on together. Hadley, of course, is in love with Phoeba, Phoeba is not in love with Hadley.
And so the stage is set.
There are so many wonderful and quirky characters in Mount hope, I became enamoured with them, enraged by them and frustrated with them as the story revolved around relationships, hopes, dreams and survival. These were changing times, automation of farming was beginning to raise its head, the depression had dispossessed thousands and a wave of humanity was on the move. The suffragettes were making their voices heard, the corsets were in danger. In amongst it all the people of Mount Hope love, grieve and celebrate as a community.
Drought hangs over the region like a snarling dog, for the families of Mount Hope their entire future rests on the whim of the weather and makes for anxious hearts.
Rosalie Ham brings all of this to life with humour, yet respect and her characters are brimming with life and energy so much so they virtually leap off the page. Whether you love them or detest them they are all here in vivid mental colour. The fact that I actually invested the energy to love or loath is testament to the author’s skill at weaving a story and investing in her characters.
This is not an action-packed novel with unexpected twists and turns, it is instead a meandering tale set in the Summer of 1894. A few short weeks, which impact so many.
I loved the pace of it, I felt as if I too was being drawn into the dusty lanes, the parlours and the Harvest dance. I could feel the thrum of the heartbeat of the small community desperate to survive, battling the times and seasons of both nature and man, constrained by convention, yet for some, the yearning to be free.
This a delightful novel with imagery that captured my heart. I found myself in those dusty lanes, looking to the skies in anxiety, placing my hands in the fleece of a struggling merino, daring to take a pamphlet from the suffragettes, dancing with abandon at the harvest dance and yes… loosening my corset.