Alice McVeigh

Official website of the novelist

Salt Lick by Lulu Allison

An article by Alice McVeigh


This is a deceptively brilliant, beautifully written, book… Have only just finished it, but I’m sure I’m going to re-read it, if only to relish its wonderful prose.

This is a subtle, not “in-your-face” book. Characters are challenged, change, and grow. But, even in this version of our own, possibly dystopian, future, there is generally an inner core of human decency and hope.

Allison’s prose is almost unnervingly brilliant. But that’s not all. She has also created a terrifyingly believable dystopian Britain – a Britain so real and grainy that you can almost feel the rough tongues of its cows on the back of your hands – and smell the dusty grime of the (half-deserted) Colchester.

She’s also created characters that pull you into caring about them – complicated people facing complicated choices in a world which no longer feels entirely real. (Such as Isolde, who tracks down the prisoner who killed her mother, only to discover disquieting truths about her family.) The cities are scary but the countryside almost as terrifying. To own a car is prohibitively expensive. In some places gays are – literally – branded. The “25” recollects the M25 motorway, since gone to seed. The shoots of hope are what keeps the reader glued.

A ancient Greek-style chorus occasionally commentates. Some readers, both here and elsewhere, are not mega-keen on this. It reminded me – though very much shorter, and very much better – of those poems (by Bilbo) that occasionally interrupt Tolkien’s immortal LORD OF THE RINGS.

Here’s where I am with it: If it lights your fire, read it. If it doesn’t, just skip the poems, and plow straight on, which is what I always do, with LOTR. Some amazing readers are simply resistant to poetry, and that’s OK.

A sample:

The land creeps in on slow and shallow waves

We follow,
a flotilla

Once the land has pulled the towns under

Sorry, and only my opinion, of course – but… this is excellent poetry. Tolkien’s… not so much.

My advice? Buy it.

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