Salt Creek, 1855, lsalties 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 home 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.

This month’s book gave our group plenty to talk about. Salt Creek, we decided, had many facets woven into its story and all of them demanded scrutiny by us.

The family dynamics of the Finches, although reflective of the times, found us frustrated and full of empathy for the women, who had been taken to what seemed like ‘the ends of the earth’, without their consent or approval.

If this wasn’t bad enough, they were also used and bullied by their father (and husband) until the whole family unit literally fell to pieces. Sad as these circumstances were, they make for a compelling read.

The racial and class distinctions of the time was a prominent theme throughout, but we all agreed there is a lot more going on in this novel. And although some of us found it a little slow in building, generally it was considered a forceful and convincing account of such conditions.

It was mentioned that Tully’s continued story would be interesting and the thought of a follow up novel was appealing. We found similarities between Salt Creek and The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver, which we read a few years back. A family desperately trying to function at a considered level of refinement under extreme and culturally diverse conditions eventually shows the cracks in the  human capacity to survive.

Seeing where the strengths and weaknesses lie is always insightful and riveting for the perceptive reader … and something that we love discussing. A big tick from our group!