Book Review – The Surface Breaks by Louise O’Neill

The surface breaks.jpgDeep beneath the sea, off the cold Irish coast, Gaia is a young mermaid who dreams of freedom from her controlling father. On her first swim to the surface, she is drawn towards a human boy. She longs to join his carefree world, but how much will she have to sacrifice? What will it take for the little mermaid to find her voice? Hans Christian Andersen’s original fairy tale is reimagined through a searing feminist lens, with the stunning, scalpel-sharp writing and world building that has won Louise her legions of devoted fans. A book with the darkest of undercurrents, full of rage and rallying cries: storytelling at its most spellbinding.

***

gold_star-svggold_star-svggold_star-svg  3.5/5 Stars

I am really struggling with rating this book, as it’s not what I wanted it to be and I’m not sure how I feel about the story, but it’s beautifully told.

I think framing it as a feminist retelling is stretching it when the majority of the book is about a girl struggling against the society she’s in and the rules placed against her. She doesn’t like it but knows no different and is shocked to find out about anything other than how she’s been told life should be. Girls are thin, pretty, quiet, obedient and effectively objects to be give out like trophies to vile men. Yuck. And that is why it doesn’t feel feminist. I get that it’s about how she comes to discover there are options and that she’s struggling against it, but I wanted more (and now I have the little mermaid song in my head 😂). I wanted that to be the first quarter of the book and the rest to be about fighting against it, about changing the way things are. As it stands, we don’t get any of that, though I like the empowerment she finds towards the end, and the hope of the events in the final chapter. But that should have been the mid point. I feel the point of a retelling is to do something different, and this wasn’t doing enough of that. We got a misogynistic society and a more sympathetic sea witch, that’s not enough for me.

I also felt that so much of the time under water was wasted, and we could have used it getting more on her growing up or her sisters. When it got to land, I quite like it though, things started to progress and Gaia started to change in herself.

I did like O’Neill’s writing style, and the way not everything is laid out for you. And I really liked the sea witch, I wish we’d got more time in the outer lands.

If there were to be a second book picking up where this leaves off I think I’d read it as it’s more what I was hoping for. Though I don’t believe there will be!

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