Book Review: The Surface Breaks – Louise O’Neill

The Surface Breaks - Louise O'Neill

There was a LOT of hype for this book. A feminist retelling of The Little Mermaid, umm all of the yes! I know that Louise O’Neill is a fantastic author who isn’t afraid to challenge taboos, but this was different. If you’re looking for the Disney version of the Little Mermaid (which I love to no end) this is not for you. This is much more gritty.

We meet Gaia, the youngest princess of the Sea King. She and her older sisters are the pride of the kingdom must be perfect at all times. As her fathers favourite, Gaia faces her own pressures, including her fate as the most beautiful princess with a voice of gold. But Gaia wants more. She wants to know what life is like above the water, to know why her mother would risk it all just to see the human world.

This was heavily promoted as a feminist retelling. This wasn’t wrong but I wouldn’t have promoted it that way. The feminist aspects, I feel, don’t come into the novel until much later. There is a lot of misogyny and I felt quite uncomfortable reading parts, which was completely the point. That said, if you’re uncomfortable with misogyny, body perceptions or homophobia this may be a challenging need.

I also found it fascinating that this brings the fairytale into a more modern world. I wasn’t completely sure when this was set but it’s definitely not in an older time period, which I feel might have worked better? But maybe that’s just me.

This novel does teach a lot and makes you look at the world but at times I felt that it was trying a little hard to be feminist. At times the lessons felt a little forced or predictable. That said, I feel its true merit lies in the last quarter of the novel and that saves it.
I’m so torn when reviewing this book. I loved the idea, I loved the premise but for the majority, I sat at 3 stars, until we got to the last few chapters which really impressed me. The Sea Witch was an excellent character and the novel itself did look at some really important notions of being a woman. There were parts that were quite graphic, but it didn’t feel out of place, it just drove the point home further. As a feminist retelling, I did really enjoy it but I also felt that the best part was pretty rushed. But the ending was so, so good, currently sitting between 3.5 and 4 stars.

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