The Salt Madonna by Catherine Noske – Book Review

Nicole Melanson ~

Writer Catherine Noske Book Cover - The Salt Madonna

The Salt Madonna by Catherine Noske is a tense tale about the lengths a desperate community will go to in their search for a miracle.

Returning to the fictional island of Chesil to care for her dying mother, Hannah Mulvey finds herself stuck once again in a town where hardship, rumour, and vindication rule. Hannah has scars from growing up on Chesil, and her new role as a teacher in the local school threatens to undo all her healing to date. Torn between self-preservation and social responsibility, Hannah struggles to support her students whilst maintaining a firm grip on her own escape from the island.

Chesil is a community in economic demise. A sense of futility permeates the younger generation’s activities, while the older population reeks of resentment and despair. At the centre of this conflict lies Mary, a bright girl with her eye on a mainland scholarship opportunity that her controlling father forbids. As Mary grows increasingly vulnerable, a series of unlikely events has the locals looking for a divine explanation. Two worlds collide and suddenly Mary seems like Chesil’s long-awaited miracle.

The Salt Madonna is a case study in bias, showing how individuals see what they want—or need—to see regardless of factual evidence. It also shows the terrifying consequences of a community turning a blind eye to the plight of its most defenceless members. Whether or not what happens to Mary is inevitable is a matter of debate, especially for Hannah, who struggles to reconcile suspicions of her own complicity with her conscience.

With the world in pandemic mode and global economies on the brink of collapse, The Salt Madonna is a timely exploration of how much can go wrong when destitution overrides ethics and accountability, and should serve as a harsh reminder to remember those most at risk of family violence and exploitation in times of crisis.