The Salt Madonna (Catherine Noske, Picador)
Set on a remote fictional island off the coast of Western Australia, Catherine Noske’s debut novel grapples with questions of familial obligation, complicity, remorse and the fallibility of memory. Noske plays with different narrative viewpoints, but the only version of events that we know to be true (or as true as ‘writing a revisionist history and calling it truth’ can be) is protagonist Hannah’s. Every other character’s perspective is Hannah’s imagining of what transpired when, upon her return to the island of Chesil to care for her dying mother, she witnessed the community start to unravel. The fate of a town falling further into disrepute as the island’s men lose their livelihoods and children are left adrift is expertly traced through the undercurrent of tension and violence that pulsates throughout the novel. Noske’s evocative, haunting descriptions of giant old cypresses, imposing cliff faces and the rotting smell of seaweed bring to life the harsh landscape of Chesil, and the storytelling is at its strongest when it inhabits the viewpoint of Mary, the young girl at the centre of a desperate society swept up in a collective moment of madness. The Salt Madonna will appeal to readers who enjoyed Laura Elizabeth Woollett’s Beautiful Revolutionary.
Sonia Nair is a Melbourne-based writer and critic