Review for Salt Creek by Lucy Treloar

Australian author Lucy Treloar has been nominated for the £25,000 Walter Scott Prize in the UK for her novel Salt Creek. The prize celebrates historical fiction and was first awarded to Hilary Mantel in 2010 for Wolf Hall. A huge congratulations to Lucy for her shortlisted novel, which also scored the top spot in the Indie Books Awards Debut Fiction category. Read our review of Lucy’s novel below to find out why it made the cut.

The salty, sandy winds of the Coorong in South Australia seem to blow through this novel, and even through those parts set on a Sussex estate in England.

It is the story of a family, originally from England, who went in 1855 to the Coorong region, south-east of the Murray River’s exit to the sea through Lake Alexandrina.

The tale of how the Finch family existed on that isolated cattle and sheep station is told by Hester, aged 15 when the novel opens. She is the third-eldest in a family of nine, but only seven have survived. Their mother had been gently raised in England, is almost perpetually pregnant, and saddened by her husband’s latest venture, following debt and failure in many others. How the family members mature and cope with their isolation in the wild and beautiful Coorong forms the backbone of this novel’s plot.

Hester has been raised to enjoy learning and is determined to make her own way in the world, unencumbered by any man or children. But can she resist an attraction she feels to a young visiting artist? Her feisty independence contrasts with her father’s attitude; sanctimonious and intensely patriarchal, he is prepared to send some of his children to work for creditors, or even marry them, just to ease his financial woes.

The local Aboriginal people, infected with European disease and displaced from land on which they had wandered freely, are a constant background presence in this story of unwise settlement, isolation, love affairs and the beauty of the Coorong.

Picador $29.99

Reviewed by Jennifer Somerville

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