Wolfe Island

Lucy Treloar

Wolfe Island
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Wolfe Island

Lucy Treloar

Winner of the Barbara Jefferis Award 2020

My father always said with a name like Kitty Hawke I’d surely fly  away. He said my mother should have thought of that before she named me. It was the way on the island, time out of mind… Times have changed.   

Kitty Hawke, the last inhabitant of a dying island sinking into the wind-lashed Chesapeake Bay, has resigned herself to annihilation, until one night her pregnant granddaughter rows ashore, desperate, begging for sanctuary.   

For years, Kitty has kept herself to herself, with only the company of her wolfdog, Girl; unconcerned by the world outside, or perhaps merely avoiding its worst excesses. But blood cannot be turned away in times like these. And when trouble comes following the children, no one is more surprised than Kitty to find she will protect them as fiercely as her name suggests…


There is a lyrical sense that is not to be hurried in Lucy Treloar’s writing. She writes you slowly into the world of her novels and you need to spend some time and pay attention. In her first novel, Salt Creek, she wrote us into the world of a young white woman moving to the Coorong in the nineteenth century, learning to live in an unfamiliar landscape and growing in to her awareness of all that the presence of her people destroyed. In Wolfe Island, we start again in an estuary, we start again with a woman of hardy mind and strong spirit, but we are at an end point now, the destruction has been wrought. Though a date is never given, it is sometime in the very near future.

Wolfe Island is part of the Chesapeake Bay estuary off the east coast of the US and it has been taken by the sea. All the islands are slowly submerging; most of the landscape is now only accessible in Kitty Hawke’s memories. Kitty is from Wolfe Island; her people have been there for centuries and she is the last remaining inhabitant. An artist, Kitty prefers solitude with her wolfdog, Girl, and her memories, to what is happening on the mainland. But she is pulled back into the world by the arrival of her granddaughter and her granddaughter’s friends. They are running from a world Kitty has already left. This world is an America in which climate crisis is literally eating away at the coast. It’s a world in which people seeking refuge from ‘down south’ are called ‘runners’, and are locked up.

If this sounds like a climate-change dystopia – well, it is, and it isn’t. It is foremost a story of individual separateness and grief, of strength and love, and of the way seismic change happens and people choose to look away. It is a story of now. I loved it, and I loved the grief it brought me.

Marie Matteson is a book buyer at Readings Carlton.

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