The Salt Letters

Written by Christine Balint
Review by Sarah Nesbeitt

This short novel reveals, from the point of view of a young woman, the hardships of the sea voyage from England to Australia in 1854. The unmarried female immigrants share close quarters in the belly of the ship, far from daylight, with the unnamed Matron as their guardian. Their living conditions are uncomfortable at best, with disease running rampant and water seeping in and coating their belongings with salt. To pass the time, the girls reminisce about the lives they left behind.

Sarah, the narrator, gradually reveals more of her previous life in Shropshire, with an unwanted suitor, a possible romantic interest, and a mother who oddly abhors all moisture (no doubt meant to contrast with the current waterlogged atmosphere). The story wanders along with the narrator’s thoughts, from the ship to home and back again, relating events as she recalls them. It’s not hard to believe that this is how it must have been, cooped up for months on end, with little but ocean in sight. Such is the realism of this unpleasant journey, though, that readers will likely close this novel with a deep sigh of relief.