REVIEW: Saltwater, Jessica Andrews

Tuesday, 16 July 2019

When Lucy wins a place at university, she thinks London will unlock her future. It is a city alive with pop up bars, cool girls and neon lights illuminating the Thames at night. At least this is what Lucy expects, having grown up seemingly a world away in working-class Sunderland, amid legendary family stories of Irish immigrants and boarding houses, now-defunct ice rinks and an engagement ring at a fish market. Yet Lucy's transition to a new life is more overwhelming than she ever expected. As she works long shifts to make ends meet and navigates chaotic parties from East London warehouses to South Kensington mansions, she still feels like an outsider among her fellow students. When things come to a head at her graduation, Lucy takes off for Ireland, seeking solace in her late grandfather's cottage and the wild landscape that surrounds it, wondering if she can piece together who she really is.

Most count Sally Rooney as the voice of my generation but, at least in my mind, I think Jessica Andrews more easily adopts the millennial crown in this truly stellar debut novel. In Saltwater, she manages to effortlessly and evocatively give voice to the messiness, confusion and sometimes absolute chaos, of our teenage and early young adult years.
Each short chapter becomes almost something like a memory-fragment; flitted through rapidly and with no sense of coming to even the slightest of pauses. Whereby, turning the buzzing, overstimulated mind into a thing that the protagonist is trying to hopelessly outrun; but from rural Sunderland, to busy London, to finally peaceful Donegal, her memories, fears, hopes, dreams, constant anxieties remain. The outward stimuli recedes, but the internal questioning remains.
Far too often, millennials are looked-down upon for their tendency for excess but, in Saltwater, Jessica Andrews shows that is just an inevitability in their patterns to err on the side of too-much: too much stress, desire, chaos, anxiety… Too much telling us that, to be successful and happy in this world, you need to be too much.
Andrews expertly focuses on issues that have near-universally plagued us all at one point or another (the desire to carve out our own place in the world, to fit in, for our lives to start and be something bigger than what we are) and, through the vivid and precise detail in every single part of this lucid, raw novel, it is easy to find oneself in its pages.

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for sending me a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

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