Manage episode 344807209 series 2381791
Today I have brought in something evocative and troubling. A novel that exposes the wounds of the past and reminds us these scars are only ever held just below the surface.
Eliza Henry-Jones’ Salt and Skin
Luda has arrived with her children Darcy and Min, to the storm-bruised islands of northern Scotland. The family have fled Australia in a storm of grief and recrimination seeking to find a new home and purpose to their lives.
Luda, a photographer, has been employed to document the impacts climate change is having on the islands. She almost immediately alienates herself from the local community when she publishes a photograph depicting a family's unimaginable tragedy in a landslide accident.
Settling on the tidal island of Seanney the family are fascinated to discover an ancient history of witchcraft and religious intolerance. The island was supposedly home to witches and it’s said that in the evening light scars are revealed to those who have known tragedy in their life.
The darker history of the islands is almost too close to the surface they realise, as they come to know the foundling Theo who was washed ashore as a child and whom the locals believe to be a selkie. Theo also exists both in and outside the community and must navigate acceptance as one who does not truly seem to fit in.
I was absolutely transfixed by the narrative of Salt and Skin. I love it when my reading leads me to one of those reading cliche moments and I’m pleased to be able to say that as I finished the final page of Salt and Skin I found myself turning back and then flicking forward, scarcely believing that the book was at an end. Always leave them wanting more is a showbiz adage and ELiza Henry-Jones succeeded in keeping me and then leaving me hanging on the last page.
Is it a satisfying review if I acknowledge that there may in fact be too much to discuss about Salt and Skin? I could highlight the themes of environmental decay and destruction, of violence against women, the constant tension between rural communitiers and the modernism that both threatens and offers them a lifeline. I could start there and still only be scratching the surface.
In Luda, Min and Darcy we have a satisfying trio of protagonists who then fracture into their own plotlines that twist and turn back onto each other. The family do what they can to settle into their new home and in their varying degrees of success the story moves forward and drags us backwards into the near and distant past.
Salt and Skin is a novel that deals with the supernatural, or perhaps more correctly the unexplained in our lives. And while this may be a theme that borders on the genre specific, Salt and Skin is satisfyingly oblique in its dealings with the topics of witches and ghosts that seem to occupy the millenia old landscape of the islands.
The narrative weaves centuries old stories of witches with the experience of Luda becoming a pariah before she even begins in the town. We see that the women of the islands have always done what they could to survive and live and protect what they have. It brings forward an uncomfortable truth that fitting in may be very different to doing what is right and that neither may matter when there are stronger forces at work.
Salt and Skin is a story about place and while its action occurs on remote islands a world away from our lives in Australia, it is also firmly grounded in our experience of the dislocation of environmental tragedy. Through the evolving stories of Luda, Min, Darcy and Theo we see our own connections and must confront that we don’t live apart from our world but are in fact there in it, even as it crumbles beneath us.