365 Books in 365 Days – Episode 222 by Annie Walton Doyle

Thirst for Salt by Madelaine Lucas

“I liked the idea of Jude made into a clean slate for me, my touch negating all others, so sure then I would be the one, at last, to make an indelible mark. I wanted so badly for it to be true. That we might be like two virgins.”

The subject of age-gap relationships has been having something of a literary renaissance of late, with, I’d say, a mixed bag of success. While exploring the wonky power dynamics can sometimes veer into the moralizing and voyeuristic, when handled with balance, intimacy, and a light touch, these stories can also offer a valuable perspective on the nature of love. Thirst For Salt is one exemplary example.

Thirst For Salt takes place over one summer in an Australian coastal town. Our narrator is approached on the beach by Jude, a mysterious and (initially at least) enticing figure. What begins in secret is soon a relationship that’s taking over our narrator’s life, and has almost taken on a will of its own. As the pair attempt to set up a future together, its foundations begin to crumble beneath them.

One reason Thirst For Salt succeeds is its clever contrast between lustful, whimsical romance and the more real, enduring maternal love. Jude and the narrator’s mother are set up as mirrored, opposing forces, even depicted as the exact same age. Our narrator is very close to her mother, even seeing them as the same person when looking in the mirror. “It came to me like a shock: I am my mother’s daughter. It was her face, blinking back at me in surprise. Something wild about us, our frayed edges.”

Our narrator fears she has been taught unhealthy romantic habits by her fiercely independent mom. “My little girl with her heart of leather. Who taught you to be so tough? I thought to myself, You did.” In fact, her attempts to love Jude unconditionally are, to an extent, a way to prove herself capable of this sort of vulnerability and selflessness. Nonetheless, the narrator’s mom also has this capacity for unconditional love, but hers is saved for her children. She explains to her daughter that her romantic failures have come as a result of her fierce and all-consuming maternal instincts.  “Sometimes it feels like my capacity for love is spent, all used up on you and Henry … It kind of eclipses everything.”

This pure and beautiful love is juxtaposed against the awkwardness and difficulty our narrator experiences when trying to make her relationship with Jude work. Their love is depicted as destructive, almost dangerous. “I wanted to come apart under his hands, for all of me to unravel like a loose thread or a tugged ribbon or a string unlaced, opened, and undone.”

But as the novel progresses, we start to see trouble in the narrator’s ‘paradise.’ As a reader, we have perhaps always been looking a Jude with a skeptical eye, and some of his behaviors begin to ring alarm bells. “It was hard to argue with him when he played the card of time – his winning hand, all those years he had over me.” As these fights become more and more infuriating, the narrator too begins to see Jude as the reader does. Once viewed as exciting, he starts to feel tired and a little sad. “He looked old. Not older, old.”

Our narrator begins to see that romanticizing a relationship is never to its benefit. In hindsight, she has a more measured, realistic view of the grand romance of her past. “What we might be tempted to call fate is really just a matter of convenience.”

But that isn’t to say that Thirst For Salt is in any way anti-love. Actually, our narrator marvels at it. She knows now that love is unreasonable, silly, and works against our better judgment. But that makes it powerful, and resistance to it is futile. “What continues to surprise me, and what I still don’t understand, is not the reasons that love ends but the way that it endures.”

Annie Walton Doyle is a 20-something writer based in Manchester, UK. She typically writes about beauty and other “personal aesthetics,” with a healthy dose of both social commentary and stupidity. When not touching makeup or reading books, she enjoys pubs, knitting, nature, and mysteries.

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