Kitty Hawke, the last inhabitant of a dying island sinking into the wind-lashed Chesapeake Bay, has resigned herself to annihilation…
Until one night her granddaughter blows ashore in the midst of a storm, desperate, begging for sanctuary. For years, Kitty has kept herself to herself – with only the company of her wolfdog, Girl – unconcerned by the world outside, or perhaps avoiding its worst excesses. But blood cannot be turned away in times like these. And when trouble comes following her granddaughter, no one is more surprised than Kitty to find she will fight to save her as fiercely as her name suggests…
Wolfe Island is the second literary novel from Australian author Lucy Treloar, set on an estuary that is slowly disappearing in the ocean.
Wolfe Island is part of the Chesapeake Bay estuary off the east coast of the US. The ocean is slowly swallowing it and over the years, one by one, the locals have fled the island for the mainland. But not Kitty Hawke — she’s now the sole survivor of that island, and she’s determined to stay there for as long as possible.
But when four young runaway kids — one of whom is her 16-year-old granddaughter Catalina Hawke — show up desperate to hide from their families, Kitty takes them under her wing. They stay in a vacant house on the island and over a period of many months, Kitty and the group bond.
“I went to the marsh walkway, a structure that ambled above the eastern salt marsh like a caterpillar in search of a leaf. It had a way of clearing my mind, which was muddled then by many worries: about the future, and about Claudie and what she knew, and whether I should tell Claudie about Cat, and what I suspected about her.”
In Wolfe Island, America is in the midst of a climate crisis. The coast of the country is being eaten away by the ocean and scores of people from the south are venturing to the north in seek of refuge. But this is not a safe world. They’re not welcome in the north, and anyone fleeing north — ‘runners’ — are hunted, captured and locked up.
Two of Catalina’s companions are runners seeking refuge.
“Not long after, we passed a farm prison where illegals and children, perhaps their own, all dressed in orange, were in trees picking fruit. It was the first I had seen of that sort of thing.”
A talented artist, Kitty is an interesting protagonist — reserved, independent, quiet, but also fierce and brash and determined. The writing is tight and almost flawless, the characters all just as interesting, diverse and integral as the next.
Her closest friend is her wolfdog, Girl, and her memories of their time together on the island. The book moves between past and present seamlessly and regularly, taking the reader on a journey through history so that by the end, we feel like we’ve been living on Wolfe Island for centuries.
The book is atmospheric and effortless, exploring themes of fragility, flight, survival, independence and adulthood. It’s about people who runs from their problems, and the people left behind.
“Summertime. When I wake early I can pretend things haven’t changed. I wait for this moment: first light arriving on the plain of Wife Island like a can of paint-wash water of clearest watermelon pink flung in an enormous delicate rush.”
It takes a bit of time to warm to this book — the writing feels sparse at the beginning, and the characters a little dry and distant. But over time, the book finds its rhythm and the horrors of the world scarily reflect our own and you find yourself drawn to the characters and their journey.
Recommended for fans of literary fiction, and character-driven stories. Recommended for regular readers.
Thank you to the publisher for mailing me a review copy in exchange for an honest review.
Pan Macmillan Publishers