Highly Recommended

Thirst for Salt




It’s in the water where she first sees him: a local man almost twenty years her senior. Adrift in the summer after finishing college, 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 lure of a first love.

Madelaine Lucas’s debut novel, Thirst for Salt, reveals with stunning, sensual immediacy the way the past can hold us in its thrall, shaping who we are and what we love.


Thirst for Salt was one of the rare 5 stars I’ve given this year. It is raw, heartbreaking, and atmospheric. It is a story about an all-consuming first love of a 24 unnamed narrator and a 42-year-old island native, Jude. From the beginning, we are aware that Jude and the narrator are no longer together, with a powerful opening that involves the discovery of a photograph of Jude as a father.


One thing I loved about this book was that Madeline Lucas knew when to end the story. It is jam-packed with longing, love, and sorrow, and yet she was able to write a beautiful timeline of events and knew when the story was over, without resorting to unnecessary embellishments or fluff. Every scene was purposeful and added value to the overall story. The prose was lyrical and flowed from chapter to chapter smoothly. The transition of time felt effortless and created an immersive atmosphere. I could imagine the beach, Jude’s apartment, the island. You could feel the passion Madeline Lucas has for writing.


Thirst for Salt perfectly describes the fiery and dreamlike state of an obsessive first love. It consumes our narrator, and Jude’s ideology soon becomes hers. She loses her sense of identity and from an outsider’s perspective, we can see how this love is not necessarily good for her- and yet we completely get her obsession. 


I love how despite the large age gap between the narrator and Jude, she has agency, thoughts, and strength. In many age-gap relationships portrayed in literature, protagonists are often portrayed as weak or submissive, but our narrator knows their limits and tries to assess the situation the best they can.


Jude is neither unlikable nor likable, which can be attributed to the fact that the entire story is narrated from the perspective of the protagonist. We get to see the charming sides of him, especially in the beginning when our narrator is infatuated with him. But as the story progresses, that charm wears off a little- especially when he can’t seem to make up his mind about what he wants. He is a lost man, who understands the power imbalance in the relationship, but still uses it to his advantage. His beliefs waver to suit his desires, leaving the narrator in a constant struggle to appease him.


Both characters grapple with a peculiar issue regarding acknowledging their romance and the age gap. The narrator refrains from disclosing their relationship to her mother, but not out of shame. She is quite open about it to everyone else. Jude, on the other hand, is a little upset at her reluctance to acknowledge them, and yet does not acknowledge them to his friends or anyone else. It's just another example of the complex emotions and complex situations the characters find themselves in.


Their relationship is a complicated thing, where despite how much love the narrator holds for Jude, it doesn’t ever bridge the gap between their ages. Jude is pretty indifferent when it comes to talking about serious topics. He dismisses any hard questions and ideas about the future. And our protagonist doesn't ever fight it out with him. Push him to explain, be specific, or be honest. She just accepts his silence and indifference thinking it’ll make him happy. There is distance between the narrator and Jude, of never really knowing what each other wants. 


I enjoyed reading the arc our narrator experiences, from being a young woman obsessed with a man- in a state of desperation for his love, to being someone who saw their crumbling relationship and removing herself from it. She is broken in all the ways young girls are after their first love, and for a moment you question whether she would ever recover. And yet she does because that is what humans do. We move on, despite the crippling grief of heartbreak. 


Side note, I loved the subplot of the narrator and her mother. It is so rare to read about healthy mother-and-daughter relationships, it was a breath of fresh air. 


This book is so profound in acknowledging a different kind of love that is not written about enough. I have read books about passionate romantic love, tragic love, and soulmate types which are all fine, but this book really struck a chord with me. Thirst for Salt discusses a love that has been lost and yet is still important and integral to those who have lost it. For me it was heartbreaking, reading about a love that you know will end.


Thirst for Salt is also one of the most beautiful titles I’ve ever seen. It is so beautiful and gives readers so many different interpretations of what it could mean. At least for me, it could mean desire and craving. In literature, salt can be symbolically linked to desire or craving. Just as salt enhances the flavor of food, it can represent a desire, a deep yearning, or an intense craving for something that adds flavor or excitement to one's existence- in the narrator’s case, Jude. It could also mean the narrator is longing for something unattainable. Since salt is often associated with preservation and being complete, it could mean a yearning for something that seems unattainable, something that would preserve or perfect a situation or relationship but remains unattainable.


This book is salt-encrusted, with vivid imagery of the beach and the ocean. And at least for me, the ocean was a very fitting setting for this story of loss and love. I like to associate grief and oceans because of how vast and endless they both are. Wonderful choice for the story, and I don’t think I’ll ever read a ‘love’ story like this ever again. I’m so excited for more of Madeline Lucas’ work- I can’t believe this is a debut!

Book Details

Highly Recommended
Published: 07 March 2023
Page Count: 266 pages

Highly Recommended

Content Warning Summary

  • Abortion
  • Animal Death
  • Miscarriage