Review: ‘A Sea of Bodies’ by Jessica Andrews

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Palatinate Books asked to read Jessica Andrew’s short story, as part of the Aitken Alexander Isolation Series. You can read the story by visiting their website. Andrews is the author of Saltwater, which won the Portico Prize for Literature earlier this year.

We are made to forget that we are a body in a sea of bodies, so we will keep going to work and wanting things, neglecting the animal fact of our skins.

Jessica Andrews, ‘A Sea of Bodies’

These are the words from Jessica Andrews’ latest work, a short story entitled ‘A Sea of Bodies’ from The Aitken Alexander Isolation Series. It’s a story that has exquisitely captured the uncertainty, anguish and poignancy of the state of our today, and most importantly, it’s a story that shows the pure and compelling nature that words can have. 

When I mention the state of our today, I’m talking about the pandemic-filled conversations, about the lack of meaning in our days, and about the guessing. As humans, we are constantly trying to estimate when this will all be over and when life will be normal again. It is simply in our nature. However, whilst the world has stopped spinning around us and our structures have come to a halt, this only shows us that our minds have not. We are still constantly jumping on to the next thing without even realising. There are however many pleasures in life that do allow us to take a second and stop; a beautiful view, a specific song, looking into the eyes of someone you love. But when that pleasure is a book or a poem, or just words in general, that to me is the most powerful of all. Andrews’ short story does exactly this. 

There are many pleasures in life that allow us to take a second and stop… Andrews’ short story does exactly this

After reading the first few lines, you’re instantly transported to a small village in Barcelona that has never even crossed your mind before. It is calming and sheltered, but busy and exposed at the same time. Andrews presents it to us as a place of escapism, somewhere to run away to when things are too heavy, a place where you can breathe. My mind was drifting off to a destination I knew nothing about but knew I wanted to visit one day, until my eyes reached the next line ‘When Spain declared a state of emergency…’. 

Unaware, it had crept up on me, quite ironically actually after everything that had happened in the past month. My nose began to scrunch up, mostly because I’d just retired up to my bedroom after the Coronavirus update had been on for about three hours in my living room, but reading on was a must. 

Soon, the numbers and statistics I’d be looking at just forty-five minutes before had been replaced by an actual vision of suffering. The language Andrews goes on to use is truly captivating, and her words begin to paint an artwork of worry and frustration at the world. It was as if we were two friends in a coffee shop, and I was listening to the heartache this awful virus causing. 

Her words begin to paint an artwork of worry and frustration at the world

The ending resonates even more effectively. The fact that these words are essentially spoken from the future, with Spain being a few weeks ahead of us, allows the story to be presented as advice. Andrews is urging us to stop and be grateful for our livelihood. We must remain safe and look after ourselves, whilst also trying not to worry. We must cling on to the small things. Life has stopped for now, but it won’t be stopped forever. 

I remember how it is to be a body in a sea of bodies, far away from the bodies I love. I learn how it is to be still…If I think about the dark too much, then I might choke on it.

Jessica Andrews, ‘A Sea of Bodies’

Image: Nathan Dumlao, Unsplash

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