Picador, $29.99 pb, 392 pp, 9781760553159
With Wolfe Island, Lucy Treloar joins a growing number of novelists whose fiction is marked by anthropogenic catastrophe. Her latest offering confronts two urgent global crises: the climate emergency, and the plight of refugees. Treloar reveals startling connections between the two through the shared thread of displacement in a work that is more than powerful: it’s transformative.
Treloar’s second novel is as impressive and haunting as her award-winning début, Salt Creek (2015), and just as bleak. While Salt Creek looked unflinchingly into the past, Wolfe Island turns its steady gaze towards the future. Common to both works is the notion that, ‘You cannot outrun the past. It will gather itself and find you.’ That Treloar handles dystopian fiction as deftly as historical fiction is proof of her exceptional talents.
The absorbing narrative is structured in three parts – The Island, Journeys, Home. Narrator Kitty Hawke is the last resident of Wolfe, a sinking island turned marshland. She and her wolfdog, Girl, lead an isolated but peaceful life, attuned to the island’s subtlest moods. Kitty fossicks around the shore, ‘mudlarking’, turning debris into sculptures. Her life changes when unexpected visitors arrive, among them her granddaughter, Cat. They are on the run, desperate for sanctuary for reasons that unravel as the novel progresses. What follows is their hair-raising voyage through a land rife with danger. ‘Hell, darlin’, the law don’t even care about the law these days,’ opines one gun-wielding vigilante. But Kitty carries a gun of her own.