Tuesday, 3 January 2017

Salt Creek by Lucy Treloar

One of my good friends has been raving about Salt Creek for nearly a year now. I knew I would love it - it has all the things I usually look for in a good book.

Strong, interesting female protagonist, fascinating setting (Younghusband Peninsula in South Australia), a lovely cover design and historical fiction based loosely on real stories.

Hester is the eldest daughter in a large family fallen on hard times thanks to their father's dubious business investment ideas.

After the failure of his sheep run and the sudden death of two baby siblings, the grieving family is forced to sell up and move to the Coorong region.

Treloar's writing is beautiful, even lyrical at times, but the story that is told is tragic.

The earth still turned and we had almost reached the sun.
There was nothing there but a strong feeling of absence.
A person might appear to be complete and be invisibly crumbling, or might appear to be falling apart and yet persist despite all expectations. 

Poverty, hard work, more loss, death and business failures dog the family throughout their time at the Coorong.

However, it is Hester's strong will and hopeful nature that keeps them together, or at least moving forward as best they can.

They befriend a young man from one of the local tribes, Tull.

For me this is one of the highlights of the story. The disconnect between the two worlds is so vividly and perceptively drawn. Both parties tried so hard to get to know each other, to learn from each other, but you just know it will end badly. This imbues the story with sadness and frustration.
You know what's coming; we just don't know the details of how Treloar is going to bring it about.

Treloar's indigenous perspective is definitely coloured by Bill Gammage's The Biggest Estate on Earth, which she acknowledged in her afterword. For me this is historical revisionism at its best.

If you loved Kate Grenville's The Secret River or The Lieutenant, I think you will love this too.
Salt Creek is heart-achingly good and deserves to be widely read.

And I'm not the only one to think so. Treloar won the 2016 Dobbie Literary Award and the Debut Fiction section of the 2016 Indie Book Awards. Salt Creek was also shortlisted for the 2016 Miles Franklin Award.

Whether we will ever make something complete I cannot know. It is a fractured thing, life; it is in its nature...and broken people can survive and find each other and become whole.

This review is part of my Australian Women Writer's challenge.

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