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Saltwater Hardcover – 16 May 2019
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This book is sublime. It dares to be different, to look in a different way. Andrews is not filling anyone's shoes, she is destroying the shoes and building them from scratch. (Daisy Johnson, author of Everything Under)
Luminous (Observer New Review)
A stunning new voice in British literary fiction. (Independent)
Saltwater moved me to tears on several occasions; here is proof of the poetic idiosyncrasies of every family, of every person's narrative being worthy of literature, of the fact that a good novel shouldn't bring voices in from the margins, but travel outwards towards them, and let them tell their own story, in their own voice, in their own, unique way. (Andrew McMillan)
Saltwater revels in the possibilities of its form, using fragments to shift tone and texture, reminding us of those pivotal moments that can upend a life . . . This book holds disparate elements in a finely wrought balance that is difficult to achieve at any stage of a writing life let alone in a debut. (Kayo Chingonyi, winner of the Dylan Thomas Prize)
A book of breathtaking beauty. Saltwater is a visionary novel with prose that gets deep under your skin. The short, sharp chapters thrum with life. Lucy is a memorable character, her journey one that is moving and totally compelling, telling a series of deep truths about the state of our divided nation. Andrews is a major new voice in contemporary British fiction. (Alex Preston)
A stunning new voice in British literary fiction, for fans of Rachel Cusk and Olivia Laing.See all Product description
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The prose style is stripped down to the bone, but it still felt overwritten. Perhaps the fault is mine, as a reader, as I'm sure that this lyrical style will appeal to many and in a year's time, when the author has won the Booker Prize, this review will look very silly. But I would advise potential readers to look at the first few pages and see if it's their cup of tea.
What will make or break it for each individual reader is our response to the prose - for me, it's laboured, try-hard, pseudo-poetic that prioritizes pretty combinations of words over meaning; others may find it lyrical:
'I am wet and glistening like a beetroot pulsing in soil' (yeah but is beetroot wet when it's in the earth? I'd be pretty worried if it pulsed...)
'My life was cherry-flavoured' (what does that mean? Another iteration of the cliche of life as a bowl of cherries?)
'I came home from school with something bubbling beneath my blouse' (translation: I want a belly-button piercing - just weird articulation)
'Pleasure pools in my stomach like warm honey' (how many times have I read this cliche?)
'I rode the coloured snakes of the tube to parts of the city I'd read about' (coloured snakes? coloured snakes!)
So, not for me - but it's appearing on 2019 must-read lists.
Very rarely are sections more than a single page in length, and often there are three or more sections on a page. This leads to a disjointed narrative, which additionally moves about between time periods, so it is not always easy to determine when or where is the action. This approach may be “different” but inevitably it draws out the various storylines that piecemeal tend to go on and on. Writing style is often metaphorically poetic, and descriptions evoke atmosphere, but it is rambling – and it is pretentious.
Amongst a variety of relationships the bond between main protagonist Lucy and her mother dominates with mother caring and loving, and daughter on her own life journey. There is examination and commentary on relationships with others in her life from upbringing in Sunderland, visits to her Irish roots, and her university education; all subjects of Lucy’s story. These include her grandparents’ plain backgrounds, her mother’s partners, her depressive and drunken father, her troubled brother, her friends and colleagues etc.
As narrative lumbers along there are numerous homilies and references to economic, class, social and cultural issues, but even though Lucy has a great capacity for love she is an awkward character. Her behaviour is unattractive; excessive drinking, partying, sexual encounters, drug taking etc. Just as Lucy in the story errs to ‘purple prose’, so does author Jessica Andrews as she portrays Lucy’s feelings and behaviour. Saltwater is average – hence 3-star rating.
I really enjoyed Jessica Andrews's debut novel. The short chapters are seductive and soon you are immersed in Lucy's life and savouring sentences such as these: "Their mother died soon afterwards, 'Of a broken heart,' people tutted, shaking their heads and supping the tragedy from fingerprinted pint glasses." The descriptions of Lucy's nineties teenage years struck a chord with me and she perfectly captures the excitement and heartache that comes with discovering how you might fit into a particular world and also how one might cease to belong.
"Saltwater" is a quiet book which contains a lot of life, 'a glimpse', as the dedication has it, of one person being.