My second novel, The Hope Fault, celebrates the families we’re born into, and the families we make (and break and re-make). Full of steps and exes and aunties, missing parents and new partners, the family in my novel might be unconventional, but it’s an everyday unconventionality.
There’s Iris, hovering close (too close?) to her adult son, Kurt. There’s Marti, Iris’s best friend (and ex-sister-in-law), a little too hands-off with her teenage daughter, Luce. There’s Kristin, Iris’s ex-husband’s new wife, holding her as-yet unnamed baby girl close, skin on skin. Put these three women – these three mothers – together, to pack up the recently sold family holiday home, and watch them together. Watch them with their own and each other’s children, all of them beloved. Watch Kurt and Luce together, each of them an only child, cousins as close to each other as siblings.
Add Paul into the mix, and define him (as women are so often defined) by his relationships: he’s Iris’s ex-husband, Marti’s twin brother, Kristin’s husband; he’s father to the baby and to Kurt, and uncle to Luce. Pack them all into the house together over a long, rainy, midwinter weekend; throw a party, and watch what happens.
Early in the novel, Iris holds Kristin and Paul’s sleeping baby, and wonders how to describe her: ‘My son’s half-sister. My ex-husband’s child. … The baby has nothing of her – of Iris – in her, even though she is her son’s sister’. I wanted this novel to trace, and to query, the connections between them all. I was particularly interested in how we map and navigate relationships – like ‘my son’s half-sister’s mother’ – that, though common, can be complex to categorise, or even name.
I’m interested in how roles within families can blur and change, and I’ve played a little, in this novel, with roles defined by ‘aunt’ and ‘mother’ and ‘daughter’ and ‘father’, roles that seem straightforward because we can label them. But while labels and language can define, they can also blur, sometimes delightfully; in New Zealand, in Māori language, the word whaea can mean both mother and aunt.
My aunts – whether related by blood, or close friends of our family – have always been important to me, and I wanted to reflect that in the novel. Where I come from (Australia and New Zealand), Aunty is often used as an honorific, a term of respect for women of standing in the community. In my novel, the relationships between Marti and her nephew, Kurt, and between Iris and her niece, Luce, are tender and intimate in ways that differ from the relationship each woman has with her own child, less rigidly defined and prescribed: another way of mothering.
I also wanted this novel to include former partners remaining good friends – remaining family – long after breaking up. While the characters in The Hope Fault are entirely fictional, that aspect reflects my own family’s experience. Just one example: decades after my parents divorced, my mother re-met an old friend of my father’s. They fell in love, and within a few years – both in their sixties – they married. At the wedding, my father gave my mother away (‘I’ve been trying to give her away for years!’). The three of them often went on holiday together. My mother, a widow now, still holidays with her late husband’s former wife. There it is, that everyday unconventionality.
‘Family’ is rarely straightforward, and can take many forms. It may be what we’re born into, or what we choose; it may change, fragment, or break; it can be lost, and remade. Where some see an unconventional family, for others, The Hope Fault reads like home.