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.

Fantastic Feminist Authors

On the 8th March it’s International Women’s Day, so what better time to share some kick ass authors for you to get into. In a recent Twitter poll you guys said you wanted to see more bookish content on the blog which is fine with me, so let’s get started!

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Holly Bourne – YA Queen

From the first few pages of The Manifesto on How to Be Interesting, I fell in love and knew that Holly was one to watch. Her novels speak to young adults in a way I haven’t seen before. She talks about Feminism, without making you feel like she’s preaching. A fantastic author and you can read my review of Am I Normal Yet here.

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Laura Bates – Conquering Everyday Sexism

Laura created the Everyday Sexism project, started to show that sexism is very real and giving a platform to share it. She has just released her third book Misogynation, after Everyday Sexism and Girl Up. She’s factual as well as standing up for women’s rights. A must-read author.

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Caitlin Moran – The Reason I’m a Feminist

I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again, How To Be A Woman changed my life and perspective and, ultimately, made me a feminist. Caitlin says what she wants and has no time for bullshit. I’ve read all her non-fiction works as well as her novel How To Build A Girl, which is also a cracker. Great for getting the information with a great laugh at the same time.

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Holly Baxter and Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett – Taking on the Magazines

Holly and Lucy run their own blog of the same name but I found the book first. This is different to any I’ve read before, particularly as neither are that much older than me. This examines the way we take in magazines and the media industry. It was fantastic, absolutely fantastic. Here’s my review to wet your appetite.

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Rupi Kaur – Bringing Poetry Back

She’s become amazingly popular and for good reason. I haven’t seen poetry get this popular, well, ever. Rupi talks about the female experience in her poetry and it’s absolutely beautiful as well as thought-provoking. You can read my review of her second collection The Sun and Her Flowers here.

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Louise O’Neill – Tackling Taboo

For incredible, thought-provoking fiction Lousie O’Neill is the one to go to. Her novel Only Ever Yours freaked me out but I couldn’t stop thinking about it and later novel Asking For It has been raved about since its release. She’s not afraid of writing about taboo subjects and feminism, what more do you want? Review of Only Ever Yours here.

 

Who would you add to this list? Let me know in the comments below!

 

Book Review: Only Ever Yours – Louise O’Neill

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‘I’m a good girl. I am pretty. I am always happy-go-lucky.’

freida and isabel (intentionally lowercase)are finally in their final year at the school, all of their training will finally come in use as they fight to become companions for the wealthy young men who will come to choose them. The girls are high in ranking and expected to breeze into their lives as companions, that is until isabel does the unthinkable, she starts to gain weight. Can freida save them both in time?

I want to start this review by saying that I was surprised by this novel, it’s not something that I would usually pick up but the blurb was intriguing and the cover was more than a little creepy. I don’t think I was fully prepared for the novel and the social implications that it covers, because they’re not explicitly advertised. I’d have to say that there are some strong crossovers with that I know about The Handmaid’s Tale. It’s definitely different to novels that I normally read and it’s made me a lot more interested in dystopian fiction, so we’re on a good start!

So, a little background information, the novel is set in a world far into the future. Children are now created and only boys are brought up and given opportunities, girls are sent to the school to learn the ways of a perfect woman, be judged, ranked and immaculately dressed. They are told the importance of breeding healthy sons until they are deemed no longer useful. For those who are not chosen to live as Companions, live the lives of the Courtesans whose ambition is to sexually please the men of the world.

As I previously mentioned, the eves as they are named, all have lower case letters, they are not deemed important enough for a capital letter in their name. O’Neill makes a strong case for examining how we look at beauty and how we judge young women, yes we are not in the state that plays out in the book but how do we look at beauty and young women? There is an incredibly strong and well thought out message of feminism and the whole modern concept of a woman, we focus so much on our looks and being ‘ranked’ by other people on social media, it’s a scary glimpse into a terrifying world.

This is generally a fast paced and eerie novel, I loved the ideas and especially the relationship between freida and isabel. The girls aren’t given love or anything in terms of a motherly relationship so the relationship they share is even more incredible. Some people have argued that parts have a mean girls type feel and I can see where their coming from but I feel like it’s a lot deeper.

I’m giving this novel four stars ****! While I think it was very well done, cleverly put together and seeing as this is a debut novel (!!) we can expect great things from Louise O’Neill, she’s not afraid to tackle unpleasantness and things that we would rather not think about. The only thing I wasn’t that keen on was the ending of the novel, it wasn’t that it was bad, it just wasn’t what I was expecting. I’d love to hear what all of you think of the ending, so give me a comment below! Now, excuse me while I try and find a copy of O’Neill’s latest novel ‘Asking For It’, what seems like it’s going to be another unflinching novel.

Next Week’s Review: The Skeleton Cupboard

All reviews by Chloe Metzger and are not sponsored.