The Surface Breaks, Louise O’Neill

A 2*

“How could I have thrown it (my voice) away? The only time I was ever happy under the sea was when I was singing, and I sewed my mouth shut in the hopes that a boy I barely knew could kiss it open again.”

Caution, mild spoilers ahead.

The Surface Breaks is sold as a feminist retelling of the Little Mermaid. And even if I consider myself a feminist, I didn’t like this book. I don’t think that all feminist ranting is good and fair.

The only thing that carried me throughout the book is the decent writing that laid down the story in an attractive fashion.

But on the other hand…

It is not feminist to say that everything bad is the man’s fault (white man, in most cases). The Sea King might be a strong supporter of patriarchy and giving no power to women, but Oliver, Ruppert, and Alexander were just weak men, each in their own fashion. Oliver, a spoiled brat, Ruppert, a rapist who should be behind bars and Alexander, an opportunist. But they never could undermine Eleanor, who was a smart woman.

For a feminist retelling, the only strong feminine figure in the book was Ceto. And I don’t think it is enough to make a point. Her story was weak and not developed.

The story was not engaging and the characters were not fully developed. Yes, Gaia comes to the understanding that she is much more than a quiet mermaid who needs to stay quiet and have a pretty face, but beyond that, there is nothing attractive in the narrative. For example, there was an enormous setting for a love intrigue between several characters. Zale (a pedophile in the least), Oliver (insta-love? Again?), Ruppert (misogynistic rapist) and George (the only normal guy in the whole story?)… And even though, George story line is discarded and forgotten, resolved in a line, that says “he isn’t here”.

And I must ask, even though there is no one to answer. What with all the parenthesis? It is a work of fiction, not a paper on the life of poor mermaid Gaia. After 2 chapters, I was on an eye roll phase of it all.

There are too many political opinions in this not-so-feminist ranting for a YA novel. I came here to enjoy a retelling of the Little Mermaid, but instead I got a boring version of a feminist’s angry cries to the world.

I wouldn’t recommend this book to anyone. But if you do read it, read it with caution.

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