Tin House, January 15, 2019
I don’t base my reading around seasons. I find that my reading whims don’t generally track the weather; maybe they’re the only thing in my life that doesn’t.
But The Orphan of Salt Winds feels so much like a winter read.
I didn’t quite know what to expect from this book. All I knew was that it takes place on a marsh (I grew up on a marsh too) and had a female protagonist.
It follows two timelines; one when the protagonist, Virginia, is 11-12 years old, and one when she’s in her 80s. I suppose it can be called a gothic novel, in the sense that it’s darkly atmospheric, but it’s not only dark. Salt Winds – the house, the place, the feeling – is richly imagined and described, both bleak and lovely. I’m extremely impressed with the author’s ability to create a sense of place that seeps from the pages into the reader’s body and transports to another place and time so completely.
Virginia arrives at Salt Winds in the opening pages, an orphan adopted at the age of 11 by the kindly Clem and ambitious Lorna in 1940. As she begins to settle there, navigating her relationships with the various characters, WWII makes its way to them in an interesting way, and the story unfolds from there.
I normally don’t read a lot of WWII books, and I don’t read a lot of mysteries, but this book is subtle about its mystery and is more about character and place (which I dig). Virginia is a really fascinating character, very multidimensional, as is Lorna. I think Clem and Jozef are idealized a little too much, but I understood Virginia’s feelings about them; she’s a little girl and there are certain things kids find comforting, which both of these male characters provide.
One thing I will mention is CW for sexual assault. Max, the villain, really is a true villain – easy to loathe – which lends to the cinematic quality of the plot. I’d watch the Netflix version of this for sure. I found myself totally engrossed in this story, and read it really fast (for me), which surprised me but also delighted me.
The Orphan of Salt Winds is a departure from my usual own voices reads, but I enjoyed it nonetheless. I would recommend this to anyone looking for an atmospheric quick read that has some complex female characters.
I received an ARC from Tin House in exchange for an honest review. Opinions are my own.