What’s it all about?:
THE TIMES BOOK OF THE YEAR
Salt Creek, 1855, lies at the far reaches of the remote, beautiful and inhospitable coastal region, the Coorong, in the new province of South Australia. The area, just opened to graziers willing to chance their luck, becomes home to Stanton Finch and his large family, including fifteen-year-old Hester Finch.
Once wealthy political activists, the Finch family has fallen on hard times. Cut adrift from the polite society they were raised to be part of, Hester and her siblings make connections where they can: with the few travellers that pass along the nearby stock route – among them a young artist, Charles – and the Ngarrindjeri people they have dispossessed. Over the years that pass, an Aboriginal boy, Tully, at first a friend, becomes part of the family.
Stanton’s attempts to tame the harsh landscape bring ruin to the Ngarrindjeri people’s homes and livelihoods, and unleash a chain of events that will tear the family asunder. As Hester witnesses the destruction of the Ngarrindjeri’s subtle culture and the ideals that her family once held so close, she begins to wonder what civilization is. Was it for this life and this world that she was educated?
What did I think?:
First of all, a huge thank you to the wonderful people at Gallic Press who got in touch with me via email and asked me if I’d be interested in reading a couple of their titles that they thought I would enjoy. The first title was Salt Creek by Lucy Treloar and caught my attention immediately from that beautiful synopsis that instantly made me feel like this book was begging to be read. Well, let me just say that Gallic Press have hit onto a real winner here with what they thought I might like, because I adored everything about this novel. Not only is there an absolutely stellar story within these pages but the novel itself is just so aesthetically pleasing with that gorgeous cover art and the fact that the jacket is slightly rough so you could almost believe you were running your hands through sand (which of course, connects with where our story is set!).
So I have to admit I was already inclined to like this novel on the outside but I’m not so shallow to believe that a pretty front cover is all it takes to make a fascinating story. Here is where I tell you that what is on the inside is just as good as the exterior. It is an epic tale of a large family who leave their home in Adelaide to live in a remote, isolated region of Australia near to some of the native Aboriginal tribes who call it their home. Stanton Finch and his family build their house from scratch, raise animals, live off the land and survive in quite harsh conditions as they enter financial difficulties, suffer their own personal tragedies and learn to co-exist with the native residents of Salt Creek in the mid to late 1800’s.
An integral part of the family is fifteen year old Hester Finch and we see a lot of the narrative through her eyes as she looks out for her younger brothers and sisters, tries to comfort her distressed mother (who did not anticipate leading such an impoverished life) and begins to learn a lot about the people on the land that seem to look so different and have different customs compared to her own family. It is during those years of hardship on their land and as the family’s fortune continues to dwindle that Hester begins to see a new side of some of the members of her family and realises that decisions she has made, in order to protect her family, may not be the best and healthiest decisions after all.
I’d love to say more but I simply can’t! The beauty of this novel is that you really don’t know where it’s going to end up and I was certainly surprised and delighted by some of the more obscure avenues that the author went down that I definitely didn’t expect. There is quite a slow pace at the start but please don’t be put off. Once the family become ensconced at Salt Creek and you get your head round the sheer number of characters in this family, you enter a world of gorgeous story-telling, worrying prejudices and unexpected events that have to be read to be believed. I loved the author’s description of the environment, it was so visceral I could picture everything that Hester sees in my mind and almost feel that oppressive heat on my back. At times, it made for quite tough reading, especially when our characters (either Australian or Aboriginal) go through difficult circumstances and I found some of the attitudes at the time particularly hard to stomach. By the end though, I left it supremely satisfied and almost as if I had gone through that journey myself with Hester and her family, which I can only give credit to Lucy Treloar for as it was she who provided such a rich and emotional reading experience.
Would I recommend it?:
But of course!
Star rating (out of 5):