Viking $19.95 pb, 342 pp
Just as the great oceans have but one taste.
the taste of salt,
so too there is but one taste
fundamental to all true teachings of the Way
and this is the taste of freedom.
This quote from Buddha opens Tasting Salt, Dowrick’s second novel, and freedom is its main theme. But the freedom in question is of the quiet domestic kind rather than the revolutionary clenched-fist-and-anthem kind. Cordelia, preparing a cocktail party for her seventy-third birthday, suddenly finds herself a widow after fifty years of marriage to George. George’s departure precipitates a crisis of self. No longer able to define herself simply as ‘George’s wife’ or even ‘George’s widow’ she finds herself confronted by the past and unresolved questions of identity, sexuality, and gender. Cordelia’s odyssey, frequently confusing and sometimes painful ultimately brings her a modicum of joy and renewed faith.
Offering solace and friendship during her time of grief is a younger woman, Laurie who, like Cordelia herself, is a talented potter. Unlike Cordelia, however, Laurie has a hectic lifestyle. She is the mother of two rambunctious children, the ex-wife of Gregory (now in a relationship with Winston), and a lesbian. Tentatively at first and then with increasing confidence Cordelia accepts Laurie’s overtures of friendship, a friendship that finally blossoms into the possibility of a real and loving relationship. Laurie also offers Cordelia the chance to inhabit her body in a way that it was not possible for her to do during her marriage to George and acts as an anodyne to the slumbering ennui of Cordelia’s past life. She forces Cordelia back into the world of people, a world that Cordelia had let slip away under the shadow of George’s natural gregariousness, his erudition, and charm and his almost indefatigable appetite for causes and charities.