This really is the most extraordinary debut novel I have read in years.
Andrews tells the story of Lucy, from the ages of roughly 10 to roughly 30 years. It is fluid and hypnotic. It flows back and forth in time. The language is pure poetry at times (most of the time). It is dreamlike, revelatory – telling its secrets elliptically, and the worst ones, the most gently.
You can pretty much open the book at any page and find a passage that simply glories in language and telling:
(My grandfather) swam in the sea and picked seaweed from the rocks, drying it out on the roof of his shed so he could snack on it later, licking the sea from his lips. (90)
I no longer hunger for your hands on my skin. Now boys touch my body and decide if it is good or not. I am lucky. I have nice one. He kisses and sucks and licks and fucks but there is a mad, sad thing growing in my belly. I always want more. I do not want to be me for reasons I do not understand. I have read too much or seen too much or had too much of something. I cannot settle, I am itchy all the time behind my eyes and between my bones. I get so drunk that sometimes I pass out in spangly dresses, purpling headaches on chip-shop floors. (153)
Order seems to mean emptiness, or at least it does for me. I want coffee spilled on the carpet…(I want) evidence that people have eaten…I want to expand and leave traces of myself. I want evidence that am existing. (227)
Lucy grows up near Sunderland, with her younger brother, her mum and sometimes her dad. She heads to London for the college years, where there is drink and boys and drugs. And later still she is back on the west coast of Ireland, where she has family who they used to visit as kids in their summer holidays – the episode of her broken-hearted mum trying to drive them back up to the ferry, across to Scotland before finally stopping at Scotch Corner and asking the young girl if they should turn round, is outstanding. There are moments of stillness, sadness and heartbreak. But above all else you come out of it admiring Lucy for having the courage to live as she wants to which means, sometimes, taking the rough side and picking yourself up again.
The last two novels I’ve read have been outstanding, both by young female writers originally from the NE of England. They both tell first person narratives of unapologetic, mistake-making young women who refuse to be anything other than themselves. There’s something going on and it seems to be very good.
An absolute joy to read. I am in awe.