I saw Saltwater by Jessica Andrews cropping up on my feed and was intrigued by the quotes on the cover. Do they ever catch your attention? A bit more digging and I read that Saltwater was recommended for those who liked Normal People and Fleabag – sold, to the almost 30-year-old woman at the back!
Lucy is lost, has always felt lost. Growing up in the North East, she saw university in London as her golden ticket. A chance to be reborn and become the real her. However, she discovers that the big city and bright lights aren’t everything that she wished for. After a visit from her family, Lucy realises that she is yet to figure out who she is or her place in the world. This time she heads to Donegal in Ireland to live in her late grandfather’s cottage. Here, in the quiet village and surrounded by her family history, Lucy unpicks her past and her present.
Saltwater plunges you straight into the depths of Lucy’s mind. Instead of traditional chapters, the book is written in short snippets, like thoughts or fragments of memories that have been jotted down. I read this last month so still during lockdown (was there a time before it? I’ve forgotten) and I found this style of writing perfect for when I was struggling to concentrate. Each little burst is full of poetic, raw and lyrical prose that captures the innermost feelings of Lucy as she makes strides to understand herself.
The story is non-linear and moves back and forth in time. It could have been incredibly confusing but somehow it’s not. The author has managed to grasp that sensation of when your mind is flitting between memories and turn it into a narrative. It’s incredible writing. It’s through this shifting perspective that Lucy ruminates about belonging somewhere and what home means to her. The story of how she, an ordinary teenager from Sunderland who wants to get drunk and see gigs, seeks out something different by moving to London, is familiar yet told in an incredibly tender and honest way. Certain moments made me laugh (or squirm!) with recognition as someone who was also a teenager in the 2000s.
Although Saltwater is mainly interior, Lucy’s family are at the core of the book. It explores her relationship with her alcoholic father, her brother, who is born deaf, and most of all with her mother. The book starts with a prologue that viscerally describes the moment that Lucy’s mum gives birth to her. Lucy’s love for her mother runs so deep that when I was reading it made my chest ache. She always wants to be close to her, especially as a child and her evolving feelings towards her mother felt so real. This book is about the highs and the lows of family life, the spoken and the unspoken things that lie between you all and live with you forever.
Deeming Saltwater as a coming-of-age debut feels like it’s being underplayed. It’s a beautifully written debut that pushes at the boundaries of typical novel styles yet remains readable and engaging. I thought the author did a wonderful job of immersing you into Lucy’s world and I was sad to leave it behind. I’m already looking forward to what the author does next.
Grab your copy here and let me know what you think of it!