I still haven’t got around to reading Jessica Andrews’ debut, Saltwater, leapfrogging over the copy on my TBR to read her new novel. Milk Teeth follows an unnamed young woman, restless and unable to define quite what she wants from life, who falls in love with a man who seems to want her as much as she wants him.
I am tired of living precariously and skirting the borders, a stranger caught on the periphery of a photograph, a passing, faceless woman without a name
Our unnamed narrator meets her lover at a party for the opening of her friend’s exhibition. They meet again, go dancing and spend the night together sparking a passion that consumes them both. They see each other often: he loves to cook; she fights her constant struggle to eat freely and with appetite. When he’s offered a research position in Barcelona, she’s bereft, visiting him for a month which she finds both liberating and constraining. What will become of her independence if she chooses to stay with this man who is establishing a life for himself? She has a history of failure, at least in her own eyes: leaving her best friend behind in Bishop Auckland, their invincible years of partying behind them, to lead a rackety life in London of part time jobs and pokey flats; living with a boyfriend so fastidious she constantly felt judged; a few months in Paris brought abruptly to an end. A second visit to Barcelona brings about a crisis and a choice must be made.
The streets are chaotic and beautiful with patterned cobbles and mosaic tiles, grocery shops gilded with gold spices, shop windows glazed with pastries and squares drenched in light
Andrews alternates her narrative between past and present, delivering both in short, vivid snapshots. Her writing is striking – vibrant descriptive passages coupled with stark observations as our narrator struggles to understand what she wants, having spent much of her life running away from herself. The descriptions of food are particularly memorable, emphasising the tensions between her appetite and what our narrator will allow herself. There’s a claustrophobia about the narrative effectively conveying her mental state, a self-absorption that accompanies her turmoil uncomfortably portrayed. There are passages of aching sadness for this young woman: lost, self-destructive, longing to understand what she wants and needs from life and to be able to take it. It’s an impressive piece of fiction, accomplished and insightful, although not an easy read.
Sceptre Books: London 9781473682856 256 pages Hardback (Read via NetGalley)