Thirst for Salt

Madelaine Lucas

Thirst for Salt
Allen & Unwin
4 April 2023

Thirst for Salt

Madelaine Lucas

A compelling and unforgettable debut novel by an acclaimed young Australian writer - a mesmerising story of desire and its complexities and a powerful reckoning with memory, loss and longing.

She first sees him in the water: a local man almost twenty years her senior. Adrift in the summer after finishing university, a young woman is on holiday with her mother in an isolated Australian coastal town. Finding herself pulled to Jude, the man in the water, she begins losing herself in the simple, seductive rhythms of his everyday life.

As their relationship deepens, life at Sailors Beach offers her the stability she has been craving as the daughter of two drifters - a loving but impulsive mother and an itinerant father. But the arrival of Maeve, a friend from Jude's past, threatens to rock their fragile, newfound intimacy. And when she witnesses something she doesn't fully understand, she finds herself questioning everything - about Jude, about herself, about the life she has and the one she wants.

A magnetic and unforgettable story of desire and its complexities, and a powerful reckoning with memory, loss and longing, Madelaine Lucas's debut novel reveals with stunning, sensual immediacy the way the past can hold us in its thrall, shaping who we are and what we love.


Madelaine Lucas’s gorgeous debut opens with her unnamed narrator’s discovery of a photo of a man with a little girl: his daughter. She recognises him – Jude, older now than when his life was knotted with hers – the man she loved and who loved her the summer she turned 24 and for several blissful months after. Yearning and regret mingle as Lucas plunges into the past, to her now 37-year-old narrator’s melancholy memories of a holiday with her mum, in fictional Sailors Beach on the NSW south coast, an interlude between the end of university and the future.

One day, during that summer sojourn, she spots 42-year-old Jude swimming. On the next day, he approaches her on the sand and calls her ‘sharkbait’, because she stays out until sundown. He’s seen her before. There’s an immediate spark. She dreams of him, waking fevered, ‘Everything,’ she recalls, ‘suddenly unbearably erotic, alive.’ They circle each other; become lovers. When she returns to her Sydney share house and part-time bookshop job, they talk on the phone and visit on weekends. Hungry for love and the stability absent in her peripatetic childhood, when Jude asks her to live with him in Sailors Beach she doesn’t hesitate to say yes.

This is one of the best Australian debuts I have read in a long time. Lucas writes beautifully of the intimacy of cohabitation; memories of the narrator’s daily life with Jude create their own hypnotic, wave-like rhythms, textured with sensual details of wild bushland, water, and the changing seasons. Lucas avoids tired tropes about older men and younger women – there is deep empathy here, flowing between author and characters, and between the characters themselves. Lucas understands what animates their imperfect hearts. Writing about sex, especially such formative experiences, can be fraught with problems. But Lucas is gifted at capturing desire’s burning physical and emotional landscapes, rendering both with subtlety and precision.

Thirst for Salt is a mature and complex novel. It’s a love story in the richest sense, an exploration of how it feels to be alive – exactly what it is that we talk about when we talk about love.

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