The Year of the Farmer by Rosalie Ham

‘Why was the weather never straightforward, timely or generous?’

Picture this: a close-knit rural community, somewhere in New South Wales, plagued by years of drought. And if the farmers are not earning money, then they are spending less. The whole community suffers – except, perhaps for the opportunists.

Meet Mitchell Bishop. When his ex-girlfriend left town, he fell into the clutches of the truly awful Mandy. Mandy makes the lives of Mitch and his father Cal utterly miserable: she can’t cook, she wastes water, and they never get to hear the weather report. Mitch’s crops are failing, and his stock is starving, but he refuses to give in. All he needs is rain, and for his ex-girlfriend Neralie McIntosh to return. Wishful thinking.

But then, Neralie does return to run the pub and sparks fly.

In addition to the truly awful Mandy Bishop, there’s Glenys ‘Gravedigger’ Dingle waiting for an opportunity to, umm, redirect some of the scarce water into a business opportunity. Mitch isn’t fooled by the empty promises made by the water authority:

‘The farmers are appreciated, and all water authorities aim to celebrate and support the farmers and the vital role they play in feeding, clothing and sheltering us all.’

but the town is running out of options. Neighbours argue over land management, feral dogs make life even more complicated.

‘Isn’t blood thicker than water?’

‘At this point, water is blood.’

Full of black humour and quick wit, this satirical novel is peopled with some very memorable characters. Mandy does her best to undermine Mitch but then spreads her nastiness more broadly.

How will it end? I kept reading: Mandy’s comeuppance was what I wanted, and drought-breaking rain.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith