'Faraway' is a biography of the Hepworth family who set sail from England in 1947 in order to find a better place to live. It is a story of a husband and wife, Diana and Tom, natural explorers who longed to find a perfect place in this world where they could lead a simple life away from the pressures of civilisation. They found their paradise in the form of Pigeon Island, a small remote island in the Solomons.
Tom, son of esteemed filmmaker Cecil Hepworth, was brought up in London by his two older sisters after their mother died. Diana got a taste of freedom early in life when her family moved to America. In her twenties she worked as a model, ships mate and carpenter and showed her strength of character and physical stamina throughout her life both on board the couple's ship, the Arthur Rogers, and on the island.
Lucy Irvine - author of the novel on which the Tom Hanks film 'Castaway' was based - was chosen as the family's biographer because of her own desert island experience, her skill and honesty as a writer and her willingness to go to live on Pigeon Island for a year with Diana and the 'natives'. But a romanticised vision of idyllic life on a desert island this is not, nor is it simply a biography of the Hepworth family. It is more an account of two families or rather two extraordinary women, their struggle for survival and their need for solitude.
'Faraway' tries to answer the question of what happened to this quintessentially English family whose three children grew up in 'paradise' and tried unsuccessfully to fit into island life and the real world. What should have been idyllic peace and harmony turned into a lifelong battle that pitched Tom and Diana against their children and the islanders.
They have lived extraordinary lives but have been deeply affected by poor mental health, tragedy and witchcraft (used by islanders who accused them of stealing their land). The Hepworth children - eldest daughter Tasha and twin sons Ross and Ben - are all very different. Tasha a diagnosed schizophrenic is now living in a home for the handicapped in New Zealand and is heavily sedated. Ben is deeply religious and very much a hermit, his parents blame a "brainwashing" cult which got a hold of him when he took some time out in New Zealand. And Ross has "gone native", that is to say has married a Reef Islander and is content to live amongst the natives.
At several points in the narrative Irving lapses into pure fiction. Take the story of Bressin's first love and his time in Australia during which Irvine describes actual conversations, detailed love scenes and takes liberties with various characters' emotions. This takes away from her status as 'biographer' and undermines the historic accuracy and reality of the tale.
It is an enjoyable book and deeply moving. But if I was Diana Hepworth I would be disappointed, it is not the biography or homage to her husband Tom that she had hoped for. Irvine is a sensitive, caring individual who tries to tell their tale, but she spends too much time telling her own story and that of her family and at times it could be said she has judged the Hepworths too harshly.