At university, Lucy’s working-class background sets her apart from her classmates and London, even as she struggles with the excruciating, slow separation from her mother. Her father goes missing just after she graduates; her shift into adulthood comes with the burden of choosing how much of her father’s trouble to take on. When her grandfather dies, she escapes to his tiny house in Donegal, a place where her mother once found happiness. There she will take a lover, live inside art and the past, and track back through her memories and her mother’s stories to make sense of her place in the world.
... exquisite ... it’s atmosphere, language, and a deep sense of place, as much as any answers to these questions, that keep you turning pages. With some chapters running only one or two sentences, the pacing is brisk. But the writing is lyrical, fresh, and poetic. I was reminded sometimes of Dylan Thomas ... a gorgeous coming-of-age novel.
Andrews unspools Lucy’s coming-of-age story in short numbered fragments, prose poems that at first seem random and out of order, but build in a logical sequence all their own. The technique isn’t always successful and the flurry of pop cultural name checks can read like a confounding shorthand — especially the overwhelming array of bands and singers. But more often Andrews’s writing is transportingly voluptuous, conjuring tastes and smells and sounds like her literary godmother, Edna O’Brien ... It’s her mission, [Andrews] has said, to tell the stories of working-class women. That’s a fine undertaking, but what makes her novel sing is its universal themes: how a young woman tries to make sense of her world, and how she grows up.
It’s a standard coming-of-age narrative, but also features something very rare in literary fiction: a working-class heroine, written by a young working-class author ... Saltwater is billed as 'for fans of Sally Rooney and Olivia Laing', but Andrews has little in common with either. You can draw a much stronger line to Sara Baume ... The writing is disarmingly honest – sometimes, when it comes to Lucy’s relationship with her mother, uncomfortably so This is a courageous book dealing frankly with youth, puberty, mother-daughter relationships, class, disability and alcoholism. There are difficult truths, but no wallowing ... There is little dialogue, but if the interiority can occasionally feel wearing, it is worth it for its refreshing perspective. Lucy feels the acute tension and anxiety that arises between leaving your community and staying. I found parts of this novel intensely moving – I wish I had read it when I was 19.