Hello Book Lover,
I closed the final pages of Saltwater and took a moment to bask in its glory – let me tell you now, it’s my book of the year! In fact stop reading this review and go and buy a copy, settle down and devour it in one glorious sitting.
Saltwater follows Lucy. In the aftermath of her grandfather’s death she travels to Ireland for the funeral and moves back into his house; the home which was so familiar to her as she grew up and which evokes strong memories of her childhood. Lucy invites the reader to revisit these memories by sharing the intimate details of her upbringing, the chaotic and loving nature of the relationship with her mother and of long summers spent in Ireland.
Saltwater is lyrical and spiky, raw and witty, loaded with emotion, while at times it’s detached. It’s a complex non chronological narrative which is presented as short chapters – sometimes as little as a sentence but never more than three pages, alternating between the present day and the past tense. I really enjoyed reading about Lucy’s upbringing, it was so rich and resonated with my own experiences of a Northern household. Jessica Andrews deftly explores the family dynamics and community within a northern family, the prose is a social commentary for the early 2000’s with mentions of pop culture which are seared on my own memory – The Hawley Arms, Pete Doherty, Amy Winehouse and the music of the time.
One of my favourite elements of this book was the chapters which interject the past and present, the inner monologue of Lucy as she explores and understands her relationship with her mother as she grows up. I loved these chapters, they were steeped in emotion, depicting the strength of the relationship between her and her mother which was both stifling and refreshing. Lucy adores her mother and it was sad to see how this relationship fractured and fragmented as she transitioned from child to adult.
It is very rare that I read a book which strikes such a chord with me and is so relatable to me and my experiences, Saltwater did this and it completely stopped me in my tracks. As a white woman in the UK, you could say that any number of books could be relatable to me, but to be honest I haven’t found this to be the case and certainly not to the extent of Saltwater. The music, the pink mallows, the red lemonade bubbles, I was immediately transported to Sunday afternoons, after mass, in the Catholic social club Irish centre. As the daughter of a working class Irish father and a working class English mother, this book spoke to me in volumes and I was genuinely sad when it ended, I felt like I grew up with Lucy.
Saltwater is absolutely stunning, it threw me into the depths of my childhood and adolescence, with references to bands I have watched, places I have been, people I have tried to fit in with and people I have wanted to become. I was recently talking about this book to a friend and I was laughing that I had to check that Jessica Andrews wasn’t from Manchester and hadn’t been stalking my sister and I throughout the mid 2000’s! So many times I felt on the outside looking in, longing to be part of a world just out of my grasp, Lucy struggles with her own identity and how she fits into her world in London and her world in Sunderland when she visits home. I only wish Saltwater was around when I was struggling to get my head around these feelings and my own identity in my late teens and early adulthood.
Saltwater had me spellbound from the beginning and I genuinely cannot recommend this book highly enough, I hope Jessica Andrews has something else in the pipeline, as I am desperate to read whatever is next.
Saltwater is published by Sceptre and is out now.