By Jessica Andrews
I first heard of Saltwater by Jessica Andrews as I was rediscovering my love of reading. A friend likened the novel to Normal People, which is a book that anyone who knows me knows I love. It was therefore stuck firmly into my TBR. Last year, I discovered a very interesting site called At the Table, where I read a brilliant short story – the Fishmongerer – and was totally enthralled by it. When I realised that the Jessica Andrews was the same author of that book that had been on my TBR for several months by that point, I knew I had to bump it up.
Saltwater sees Lucy, a young woman born and raised in working class North East England, grow into several different versions of herself. We see her family start from her grandfather and explore the love and resentment that can twist around each other in intimate relationships that span through years.
Lucy’s story is told through very short stories; glimpses of her life – experiences as they happen, thoughts on people and events. They’re largely made of very short paragraphs, which is very gratifying for a short form lover like myself. These paragraphs dart through different perspectives: Lucy’s stream of consciousness, beginning when she was a newborn. These little chapters are told through the lens of primal experience as Lucy is too young, for the most part, to really process anything going on around her. She just tells it like it is. Other chapters are more introspective, where we see Lucy reflecting on a particular period of her life, or even the lives of her mother, her father, her grandfather, or her grandmother.
We witness Lucy navigate the big scary world of social interaction as she all too willingly trades childhood for adulthood – she wants to grow up very quickly, and get a taste of everything to come. So, we see her in her emo phase, we get a glance of her life as a student in London where she becomes a vegetarian. Largely, however, we see her gravitate in her mother’s orbit, as the two find a balance for each other. Their relationship is full of pure, real, untouchable love, but as boyfriends, jobs, friends, and life get in the way, they don’t always understand each other; they don’t always have room or time for each other.
So, this is a good book to grant you some perspective on mother and daughterhood. It’s so introspective and thoughtful, incredibly articulate and descriptive in the relationships many share with their mothers or daughters.
So thoughtful is Saltwater – so full of lived experiences, it’s easy to imagine yourself in any given chapter. As a woman from a working class background, I found Lucy to be extremely relatable – I can guess that the character and I were born around the same year as our emo phases match each other really nicely. Even though we don’t have the same stories, I think we have felt the world in really similar ways.
What sets this novel apart for me is really how deeply nourishing it is. I get the same feeling from Andrews’ short story too. Food, in particular fish and seafoods, is incredibly sentimental, and it holds deep ties in Lucy’s family. Fish, caught locally from members of the community and mongered by the women, and bought and sold to the regulars – this is an intrinsic part of knowing families and communities through generations. It’s something that comes into play when Lucy wants to refamiliarise herself with herself and her lineage. Descriptions of fish and chips will make you hungry for salt and vinegar, but also for the connection that come with sharing these meals with family and friends.
Saltwater is a deep but relatively easy read. It’s one that can be picked up and put down again at will, and it is largely very gentle to its reader. But, it might also make you feel like a bad daughter if you haven’t spoken to your mum in a minute. Actually, I think it’s probably a great read for Mother’s Day!
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