In London, we get scenes of crazy warehouse parties, sleazy bar owners, poor grades and class struggles as Lucy works part time to support her education. In the remote landscape of Donegal, however, a new woman emerges. Echoing the fluidity elsewhere in the book, there is a poignant moving away from the meagreness and restriction of her old existence: “I want a life that is full, which means dirty and delicious. Order seems to mean emptiness, or at least it does for me. I want coffee spilled on the carpet and stew slopped across the stove … I want to learn abundance; how to have things without fear.”
The twentysomething debut author Jessica Andrews apparently cut up the manuscript of her millennial coming-of-age novel and rearranged it on the kitchen floor. It might sound gimmicky, but the resulting narrative, which progresses via lyrical, numbered instalments, reflects narrator Lucy’s struggles to find a shape and space to inhabit — both metaphorically and literally... Authenticating references are over-egged (fake tan, Matey bubble bath, Skips crisps), and there’s a temporary loss of momentum mid-way, but this is nonetheless a sharply observed and poignant first outing.
Saltwater is raw, intimate and authentic but lacking in intrigue or critical distance. It’s a shame, because somewhere in here is a story about disadvantage that deserves to be heard. Andrews obviously has talent; it just needs nurturing more carefully. A novel should be more than a bunch of feels.