Reviewed by Wendy Lipke
There was only one permanent resident on Wolfe Island until a storm brought with it a skiff with a girl at the tiller, two young men and a dark-haired child.
‘You,’ I said to the big girl.
‘Yes,’ she said. ‘Kitty Hawke, right?’
‘Then you’re my grandmother’ (12).
This novel by Lucy Treloar, tells how this encounter was to change everything for the solitary, Island woman. Kitty decides to record what happened next, not just the actual physical journey that this group found themselves taking, but also Kitty’s personal journey as she remembers the past and embarks on her journey of reconnection with her family.
In this way, this isn’t just an interesting, though disturbing, story but it is also a discovery of humanity that can be hidden behind those we might normally prefer to shun as well as the lack of humanity behind those who consider themselves above others.
In some ways this is the sad story of displacement. Kitty’s island is gradually disappearing into the sea. Teenagers are running away from home and escaping family expectations. Many people are becoming runners through fear of ‘a passing truck, all laden up with local militias with semi-automatic and assault rifles’ (320), or the taunts of others who like to frighten. People are being shot for no apparent reason and houses are being abandoned as people flee to the north to ‘freedom’.
Yet Kitty, with her closeness to nature and her creativity with her ‘makings’ from whatever crosses her path, is a wonderful character for the reader to journey with. I love the simple yet powerful beliefs that the author has endowed this character. For Kitty there are many similarities between people and land when thinking of the group of young people in her life, ‘It was like they walked into one side of my life and walked across it and out the other side taking a little bit of me with them, changing everything’ (310). I loved many of the beliefs of this strong independent woman. She had always found companionship with a dog, firstly with her wolfdog, Girl, and then the stray she was left with. For her a ‘dog changes things. You can’t not take them into consideration. They make you; it’s a blessing and curse of them’ (314).
Most of all what I enjoyed about this novel was the beautiful imagery and I could almost find myself there with the characters. ‘We walked along the black lace edges of deep woods and fallow fields. Winter crops were scarce …. Another time I would make sure to walk in summer. There would be fields of corn to lie within and watch swaying overhead. I would reach up and pluck a cob and peel its taffeta husk and eat its milky kernels’ (309). I could imagine myself sitting on the wooden staircase looking at the black river with its ‘surface fissured with currents and slick- cold looking’. The air is milky. The whippy saplings growing along the bank are grey-white, pale orange, scarlet and still’ (305).
One particular thought from Kitty which resonated with me was when she felt comfort from the dog’s presence. ‘There – as long as I had a living creature beside me I could repel the darkness, the same as when I was a child’ (312). For me it was a cat.
Wolfe Island is Lucy Treloar’s second novel. Her debut novel, Salt Creek, won the Indie award for Best Debut, the ABIA Matt Richell Award and the Dobbie Award. Her short fiction and non-fiction have been widely published.
For me the storyline was confronting and depressing if this is the type of life we have to look forward to. However, I realise that this type of lifestyle is reality for much of the population in the twenty-first century. Nevertheless, I found much to admire in the character of Kitty, her determination to protect those she had found in her care, her willingness to teach life skills to those who wished to learn and her willingness to compromise to re-embrace her family. To me Kitty felt real, a flawed but likeable person.
Her journey both physically and personally showed much courage. I have not spoken much about the journey undertaken. That is for the reader to discover. For me to embrace this story despite the depressing storyline, speaks much for the skilful writing of the author, as I did find the writing beautiful.
I believe this novel, Wolfe Island, is a worthwhile read for all.
by Lucy Treloar
ISBN:9 781760 553159