‘Love like Water’ has created much controversy from being chosen as one of the Young Adult award winners, not because it isn’t a marvellous book, but because it seems to be in the wrong category. This novel was published as an adult novel and some booksellers and reviewers, including myself, feel that it belongs in that category. It is the story of three people in their 20’s, two women and a man, who are searching for love and meaning, and who move to Alice Springs, trying to find these things in the red heart of the country.
This novel reads like an adult novel, with adult themes and pacing. The three main characters have had many relationships, and all need healing from their past. Cathy is the main character, a country girl from North Queensland who is grieving after the death of her fiancé. Margie, her flatmate, is a good time girl from the city looking for love. Jay is an Aboriginal DJ, looking for a new start, away from his city job and meaningless life.
The central part of the story is the love affair that develops between Cathy and Jay, a black and white love affair which is bittersweet and memorable. It is here that we see the truth of the title – love is like water, healing and life giving, but not something you can hold onto. As Cathy says “I think love is like water. But it’s like a whole lot of other things too…it’s like food, like air…it can be like…a bushfire…like a river that flows between two people who trust each other”. Cathy and Jay’s relationship has no fairy tale ending, but the time together brings both of them some healing and increased understanding of each other.
In many ways the main character in ‘Love like water’ is Alice Springs itself. The town and its surrounds are described with a great feeling for “country”. We get an authentic Aboriginal understanding of the extraordinary natural beauty of the place, in contrast with the tragedy of many of the lives of its inhabitants. As one character says of Alice Springs “The Centre is a good place to centre yourself, as they say. I tell that to most of the people who come out here”.
Meme McDonald has written a mature, compassionate and wise novel about adult love that will be appreciated by the adult reader or a literate senior student. Her knowledge of aboriginal society and groupings, both in city and country is insightful.