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Book Review: Salt Creek

Salt Creek is the brilliant first novel from Melbourne writer Lucy Treloar.  A finalist in the Miles Franklin Literary Award, Salt Creek is set in middle of the 19th Century in the remote, rugged yet beautiful landscape of Coorong , a ( then) new province of South Australia. This is true pioneering land, just open to graziers and it is here that the Finch family, fallen on hard times try their luck to make something of the land and their new life.

The novel is a sharp criticism on man’s pointless attempts to impose their own values on their natural environment. As the family follows their ambition to tame the land and reaps success from the fruits of their labour we see the decline and dispossession of the First Australians of the region – the Ngarrindjeri people-  juxtaposed with the downfall of the Finch family themselves.

The story is beautifully told through the lens of the emotional heart of the novel-  Hester, daughter of the Finch family patriarch Stanton Finch. The reader bounces back and forth through time imbuing the story with an almost maudlin sense of nostalgia that is both compelling and slightly confusing.

There is some influence on events provided by news of the wider world which neatly and subtlely provides a broader context as does the insight the novel provides into the social structures of the period. However, it does ask us to review our assumptions about this time, with a fresh look at gender roles, societal status and even sexuality.

The emotional rollercoaster the novel takes us on is often heart breaking but never quite completely hopeless and despite its ups and downs leaves us feeling it was definitely worth the ride. It does after all have all the key ingredients of a literary period drama – suspense, romance, a rich and fascinating landscape, compelling characters all with a light sprinkling of humour.
Deeply engrossing and intelligently composed, this is well worth sinking ones teeth into.

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