Salt Creek by Lucy Treloar made me cry three times. One time was while I was walking to work (I listened to the book). I got in the elevator, having barely wiped away my tears. My work colleague was in the lift and I did not even see him. I was still on the Coorong in 1855 desperately grieving.
Perhaps the Pocket Book Club should have a crying rating. (How many times?) and a laughter rating (How many times?). Anyhow, no one else mentioned crying so maybe it was just me. I left the listening to the last minute meaning I listened to 14 hours of book in just three days. I work eight hours a day so every other waking moment when I was not eating or talking to someone else I was listening to the book. Perhaps my tears were a result of over immersion.
The Pocket Book Club all enjoyed this book. It might be a contender for the favourite book of the year.
Salt Creek is the Finch family’s story told by Hester, the oldest girl of the seven surviving children moved by their father to remote Coorong in 1855. The Ngarrindjeri are of course already living and thriving on the land. Mr Finch (Papa) believes all men are equal and the natives only need to be civilised and educated. Tull, a young boy who speaks English is semi-adopted into the family and Papa, at least at first, considers him successfully civilised.
This book could have been a kind of tragic romantic piece of historical fiction. The reason it is more than that is because it so successfully explores the themes of colonisation and patriarchy. The women in the family have limited control over their lives and they all lack of understanding of their impact on the land and therefore the lives the Tull and his family. This leads to tragic consequences.
But it is not preachy. I was emotionally engaged with the characters and it was the truth of their journey that told the story, not any intention by the author to educate her audience.
There were times when some of us were frustrated with Hester – we wanted her to act – (one point in particular for me) but we also understand how she could not act.
I know the exact point I fell for this book. In the first chapter, Hester is back in England and an old tin trunk arrives from Salt Creek.
…it was dented, dusted still, and a finger drawn across its skin left a smudge on my fingers. Could it be the grime of the Coorong after such a journey? On a whim, I licked it from my fingers, salt, and swallowed to keep it safe.
The Pocket Bookclub has now read three of the books shortlisted for the Miles Franklin in 2016. Salt Creek, the Natural Way of Things by Charlotte Wood, and the winner Black Rock White City by A.S. Patric.
The majority like Salt Creek better than the winner. Ann and I favour The Natural Way of Things. Being a judge must be a difficult and subjective thing. I understand why Black Rock White City won. There is something refreshing and different about it that sets it apart and gives what I guess the judges saw as literary merit. I favour The Natural Way of Things because it challenged me and I know I will read it again and get more from it.
In deference to the simple cooking in remote places, we ate scones and jam and cream (there was always a cow to milk for cream). There is tea too, don’t worry that was after the wine was had.
Next month we stay in Brisbane for Angela Slatter’s Vigil (as chosen by Marianne). The Pocket Bookclub rarely goes down the fantasy road so it will be an interesting night!