Saltwater is a novel that tells the story of a girl who moves from Sunderland to London to an Irish cottage in a fragmented, lyrical style. Lucy grows up with a somewhat dysfunctional family and stories of what other family members did before her. She discovers the joys of gigs and drinking as a teenager in the North East, and when she gets a place at university, nothing seems better than moving to London, the home of indie icons and cool bars. Once in the capital city, however, things are harder than she thought, and when family issues come to a head after her graduation, she ends up in her grandfather’s old cottage in Ireland, trying to put herself back together.
Told in a non-chronological way that jumps between time and place very quickly, it is a novel that feels fresh and raw. The method of putting together bits of Lucy’s story out of order, amongst stories about her family members as passed down through the family, uses disorientation to get across Lucy’s mindset and the complicated ways lives are similar and different. At the same time, the pleasingly detailed story of how she was a typical teenager in the 2000s dreaming of meeting bands and how she then turned up in Camden too late for the scene (which is told, with interruptions, in chronological order) forms a strangely moving heart to the novel. It gives a real sense of the hopes of being a teenager and how her hopes and dreams of London were then not quite the same as reality.
Saltwater is perhaps most distinctive for its non-chronological narrative and fluid style, but its highlight is the way it depicts growing up and how provincial dreams of London don’t match up to living there, using the detail of 2000s popular culture and trends. There’s something very relatable and touching in elements of Lucy’s experience, weaved in with family issues and her own need to recover from London.