You would be forgiven for thinking that I had pretty much abandoned fiction based on my blog content over the past few months, but I have started reading more novels again recently. Some aspects of Jessica Andrews’ debut ‘Saltwater’ reminded me a lot of ‘Sight’ by Jessie Greengrass, particularly in its visceral imagery concerning changing bodies and an emerging sense of self. Based on Andrews’ life so far, it also appears that there is a strong element of autofiction in this coming-of-age story in which Lucy is finding her way in the world from growing up in Sunderland to her student years in London to inheriting a cottage in Donegal from her grandfather after she graduates from university.
Lucy’s relationship with her mother and alcoholic father and the effects of their separation lies at the heart of her journey. As a chronicle of adolescent life in the mid Noughties, Andrews can’t be faulted for accuracy, atmosphere and tone. It’s a very specific era in which MSN and MySpace briefly dominated the Internet and pre-dates smartphones and the ubiquity of the current social media giants. This resonated with me a lot but that’s probably because I’m only a couple of years older than Andrews and her main protagonist so I can strongly relate to the context which few authors can recount with so much authentic detail. I’m also very conscious that I’m the prime target market for the new wave of female millennial authors – the generation destined to be labelled as “the new Sally Rooney” over the next few years – and I’m not sure how readers who don’t fall into this age range will respond to it.
It is inevitable that London ultimately proves to be a disappointing experience for Lucy. The indie scene she was obsessed with as a teenager has fallen out of fashion by the time she arrives in the early 2010s. She struggles to connect with her peers at university and the observations about class differences in this context are very astute.
Overall, the fragmented style of prose in ‘Saltwater’ means that narrative drive is somewhat lacking, but the vignettes themselves are very affecting with an evocative sense of place. I look forward to seeing what Andrews writes next. Many thanks to Sceptre for sending me a review copy of ‘Saltwater’ via NetGalley.