Thirst for Salt, the debut novel of Madelaine Lucas

8 March 2023

Thirst for Salt, by Madelaine Lucas, book cover

It was the title of Thirst for Salt, published by Allen & Unwin in April 2023, the debut novel of New York based Australian author Madelaine Lucas, that initially piqued my curiosity.

What did the name refer to? Was it a reference to the setting of the story, an isolated coastal town called Sailors Beach. Was the thirst for salt a desire to be near the water, to be swimming in the ocean? Or might the title describe a penchant for things salty, and the partaking of a taste sensation both sweet and sour?

Perhaps a thirst for salt is summation of the romantic relationship central to the novel. The affair a woman in her early twenties has with a man almost twenty years her senior.

She meets Jude, at the beach, after she is stung by a jelly-fish. He takes her home to tend her wound, and there it begins. But Jude soon reveals himself as a far from ideal lover and partner. He is manipulative, demanding, and evasive. He, for instance, refuses to introduce his girlfriend to his family and friends.

But these red flags, these warnings of toxic character flaws, are indiscernible when in the throes of love. They are brushed off, explained away, with an offhanded apathy. It is only in reassessing the relationship more than a decade later when she — the narrator of Thirst for Salt goes unnamed — understands just how much was not right.

But Lucas’ novel is not only a meditation of a romantic relationship. The narrator also ponders her relationship with her mother, and a childhood spent moving from place to place, without the presence of a father.

This is not a book for readers looking for fast paced action, or, for that matter, quotation marks accompanying the speech of the novel’s characters. Thirst for Salt is a contemplative exploration of deep, and complex feelings. It is the recounting of a journey some of us will be familiar with. One we are ambivalent about, but one that is often unforgettable. Perhaps now the idea behind the name of the novel begins to become apparent.


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