Friday, June 14, 2024

Review – Salt River Road

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Serena Kirby, ARR.News
Serena Kirby, ARR.News
Serena Kirby is a freelance reporter, writer and photographer based in regional Western Australia. With a background in public relations, education and tourism she’s had 30 years experience writing and photographing for local, national and international publications. Her current focus is on sharing stories from the sticks; its people, places and products and the life that lies beyond the city limits. She enjoys living in a small town while raising a tall teenager.
Salt River Road cover

It’s easy to see why Molly Schmidt’s debut novel, Salt River Road, won the City of Fremantle’s Hungerford Award and I feel there will be many awards to follow.

Salt River Road is set in the late 1970s in southern WA and while it’s a work of fiction it resonates with truth about loss, grief and navigating teenage-hood after the death of a parent.

When the book’s main characters, siblings Rose and Frank Tetley, lose their mother, the family is without an anchor to hold it together and things start to seriously unravel. The initial aftermath is chaotic to say the least and as their father shrouds himself in grief he neglects his sheep farm and leaves his children to basically fend for themselves.

Each sibling deals with their grief differently and the story swings between Rose and Frank as narrator and the author has crafted very distinct voices and personalities for them. Many of the sibling’s trials and tribulations, accidents and encounters will be highly familiar to readers who grew up in regional Australia in the 70s.

Adding another layer to the way this story is told, is the inclusion of passages of poetry, carefully woven into the chapters. Raw, intimate and delicately written, these poems are deeply moving and allow the author to strip away unnecessary words and totally expose Rose and Frank’s raw and deep emotions.

But this book is not just a story of loss or a coming-of-age tale; it’s also a story that explores the rich history of the Menang, Goreng Noongar people, the traditional custodians of the Great Southern region in which the story is set.

And it is via two local Elders, Patsy and Herbert, that Rose and her family finally begin to heal.  The characters of Patsy and Herbert are beautifully and authentically written and their presence brings calm and tranquillity to Rose and to the story. Of particular note are the valuable nuggets of knowledge the Elders share which offers the reader a chance to better understand the importance of County, culture, connection and reconciliation.

There’s no denying that this book may make you cry, especially if you have lost a parent at a young age. In saying that, those who have lost a parent may actually find solace in this book because the author puts into words what is often impossible to explain.

Salt River Road really is an exquisitely written book that culminates in an uplifting ending that highlights the power of community and belonging. So, if you like discovering new and talented Australian authors, make sure you add this book to your must-read list.

Author: Molly Schmidt
Publisher: Fremantle Press
ISBN: 9 781760 992620
Buy through the ARR.News Store

This book review is supported by the Copyright Agency’s Cultural Fund.
Related story: Author interview – Molly Schmidt


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