Thirst For Salt | Madelaine Lucas #AWWfiction

Today I saw a picture of Jude with a child. Not one of the fair-haired nieces I remember from photographs around the Old House, who would be grown by now, but a dark-haired little girl.

We’ve all done it.

At some point before, during or after a relationship we have typed their name into our browser to see what comes up. For most of us it’s the curiosity factor, perhaps a little bit of poking at an old wound to see if it still hurts, or maybe some comparing to see whose life is doing better. Whatever the motivation, the result is usually the same – a deep dive into contemplation and soul-searching.

This is how Madelaine Lucas begins her debut story Thirst For Salt.

The discovery her unnamed 37 yr old protagonist stumbles across online triggers an introspective, intimate journey back to the year she was 24, holidaying on the south coast of NSW with her mother. The year she had finished her university degree. The year she met Jude.

Thirst For Salt is essentially this love story.

A civilised love story between two decent people. It’s not toxic or violent, cruel or psychotic. It’s just two people who meet, find they are attracted to each other and give it a go. It’s no real surprise, though, that it doesn’t last. However there are a few things that make this archetypal love story stand out from the crowd. One is the age difference – she is 24 yrs old and Jude, the older man is 42. The number symmetry forms part of their attraction.

It would have been easy to turn this into another love story about power imbalance in an unhealthy relationship. There is an imbalance of sorts, often fluid and shifting from one to the other – around experience, though, rather than power. Jude has more life experience and romantic acquaintance, but he is still working stuff out too. He is not a man looking for someone to take care of him, physically or emotionally. He is self-contained and independent. Jude is not someone who preys on younger women. He likes women, he seems to respect women, but he isn’t ready to embrace the whole settling down with one person rationale. He knows this about himself and doesn’t hide it. In fact, he may even be a little too proud of it. Of course, every woman who comes along believes that she will be the one to make him see things differently.

Our protagonist (Jude names her ‘Sharkbait’ thanks to their first meeting out swimming in the bay) has some vague notion that maybe she could be the one, or that he could be the one, but she is only 24, too naive and trying desperately not to be. She is still getting used to the idea of being an adult.

At 24 her childhood continues to loom large – she is working out what happened and what she thinks about it – gradually creating a narrative that will make sense of the adult life she is beginning to create for herself. A big part of this centres around her relationship with her mother. They were – are – very close and she is trying to find a way to honour their life together as she moves on with her own. It can be a difficult time for many mothers and daughters – to still be their own person, yet allow the other to become their own person too.

Again, it was lovely to read a story where the protagionist did not endure an awful traumatic childhood. Things happened – some good, some bad, but it was a childhood always filled with love and affection. The love our families show us and teach us, is the love we take out into the world. I loved that this particular mother/daughter relationship did not devolve into something nasty, instead it was a loving, messy, chaotic attempt at finding new ways of being together, and apart, as adults.

I felt for the first time deserving of a love that was not my mother’s.

The inevitable failure of the relationship between ‘Sharkbait’ and Jude is at the heart of the story though.

For a while she tries to convince herself that this man could be the one for her. One of the elements from her childhood that we learn about early on, is that her father was absent for most of it, a sporadic presence at best. To the older reader, it seems pretty obvious that the father figure cliche is an attractive possibility. She has just finished university and doesn’t quite know what to do next. Her future beckons, but how to get started? A specific career isn’t calling her name, although writing will clearly figure in it somehow.

Jude is a reassuring older influence for her, a safe haven from the big, wide world, a way to sidestep making some big personal decisions about where to live, how to live her life and manage everything for herself.

For a while Jude is happy to be the wise counsel, the adult. But he is still working out his own shit too. He’s made admirable headway, but he’s a work in progress (aren’t we all)! This is not necessarily the relationship that will help him to become the better person he hopes he can be. This is a treading water phase for Jude. A convenient, pleasant interlude. He can see that clearly; our protagonist not so much.

This is where the tension lies, the magic that makes this story sing.

Lucas subtly, astutely, painfully, unpicks these different expectations, different stages of life, different hopes and dreams. Neither of them are terrible people, they simply aren’t that suited for anything long term. The story explores the two of them loving and living together in all their glorious imperfections – the choices made, the losses and gains, the shifting nature of agency and influence within their relationship, the mystery of chemistry and desire, the ways we pour our longing and yearning onto another. Thirteen years later, seeing the photo of Jude with a young child who is clearly his daughter, ‘Sharkbait’ entertains a sliding doors moment. Why was it not her? Is he happy? Is she happy? Could things have turned out differently?

One more factor made Thirst For Salt a rather special read for me – I know Madelaine Lucas.

When I first started working in the bookshop I now manage, Maddy, Madelaine, Lucas (what is the etiquette when refering to an author you know?) was one of three or four young uni students working casual shifts. We only ever worked the occasional shift together, but over two or three years you get to know some of each others stories. Social media then bridges the time afterwards. From afar you can follow graduations, career moves, weddings, parties and overseas adventures via photos and social feeds. And the birth of a debut book.

Despite the intervening years I still think of Lucas as being a young twenty-something, when in fact she is now a lovely thirty-something year old woman living and working (as a writer) in New York with her husband and rescue dog.

Thirst For Salt is a bittersweet, sensual story about the slow erosion of love between two ordinary, complicated people. Lucas is a writer to watch with interest.

The US cover


To crave and to have are as like as a thing and its shadow.

Marilynne Robinsoon | Housekeeping

Longing, we say, because desire is full of endless distances.

Robert Hass | Meditations at Lagunitas


Favourite Quote:

There is no end to grief, because there is no end to love.

Title: Thirst For Salt
Auithor: Madelaine Lucas
ISBN: 9781761066931
Imprint: Allen & Unwin
Published: 4 April 2023 (originally published 7 March 2023)
Format: Trade Paperback
Pages: 336
Dates Read: 11 March 2023 - 22 March 2023
Origin: ARC
This post was written on the traditional land of the Wangal clan, one of the 29 clans of the Eora Nation within the Sydney basin. This Reading Life acknowledges that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples are our first storytellers.

7 thoughts on “Thirst For Salt | Madelaine Lucas #AWWfiction

  1. Oh it sounds excellent. Until reading your review I just dismissed this book as being about another unhappy affair between a younger woman and an older man OF WHICH I AM SICK OF READING ABOUT. But this sounds refreshingly different. Thank you. I may look this one up in the library.


    1. I may be a little biased of course, but the book is also getting some lovely reviews around the traps. I can hear Maddy’s voice in her writing and I recognised some autobiographical elements woven into the story. I’m very curious to see what she does next.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Sometimes we are fed up with hearing about crises, seeing metaphorical car crashes, reading about manufactured angst or deep trauma; sometimes we just want a reflection of lives lived, maybe a little more eventful than ordinary but interesting nevertheless because, to some degree, unexpected.

    This sounds like one of those stories – so glad you found it, and from an author you know and rate.


    1. Sorry I missed your comment before Chris. We had our author talk at work last night for Maddy’s book & I was revisiting my post in light of her discussion and spotted an unread comment!

      I was delighted to see that I had mentioned sliding doors in my post in respect to the narrators reminiscences. Maddy also referred to it last night in regard to herself and her narrator. As I suspected the narrator is a version of Maddy if she had taken a different path at age 24.

      The UK edition has just been published I believe.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. This does sound well and subtly done, not relying on drama at the time or in the past to bring the story and characters on. How lovely that you know the author and have now enjoyed their book!

    Liked by 1 person

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