The Surface Breaks by Louise O’Neill
Published: May 3rd 2018 by Scholastic
“We are women. And women are warriors, after all.”
Deep 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.
This book is gorgeous. The dust jacket cover is made from a nice paper and is sparkly and shiny, covered in beautiful art and underneath the jacket are lovely shiny scales. It’s beautiful and now that I think about it this is actually super symbolic to the story. It may be pretty on the outside but the tale inside is anything but. I feel ashamed now to admit that yes, I did buy this book because it was pretty. I’d read to Kill a Kingdom recently and upon hearing that this would be a feminist retelling of the little mermaid I had at first felt a bit apprehensive but had heard some good things and I was interested, I had hopes that Gaia would be just as much, if not more kick ass than Lira.I was in for a surprise.
Gaia is trapped in a world where the males are all important and powerful and she is only valued for her beauty and obedience and although it is an important part of the world building for the society under the sea and the idea is a good one it just felt like I was being beat over the head with it repeatedly after a while. Sadly our protagonist is a bit of a stereotypical whiny teenager who takes far too long to learn her lesson and for someone who is unhappy with the way her sex is treated she continues to be nothing but subservient and enforce the radically sexist ideals the males from her community have thrust upon her even when she manages to escape.
The idea of the story is a good one, even with the constant reminder that all men are douche bags smacking me in the back of the head every page or so and with good characters I think it could have been much more but sadly most of the characters are all flat stereotypes other than the sea witch herself Ceto who is my favourite character hands down and easily the only feminist character in the whole book, give me a whole book of her stories and I would be sold. Gaia’s sisters are mostly forgettable and interchangeable, Oliver’s mother had such great potential and I did enjoy delving a little deeper into her but it just fell short overall.
I will say that I loved the ending. Despite how I felt about a lot of the rest of the book the ending was fantastic and worth an entire star on its own and I’m gutted that we didn’t get the kind of energy seen in those last 30 to 50 pages throughout the rest of the book. I think I get what the book is trying to say and I did like some of its stances (via Ceto) on body size and shape as well as same-sex relationships but I can’t decide if having someone who is largely seen as the villain being the only one who actually seems to have decent opinions on some pretty hot topics is ridiculous or genius. Honestly I think it’s a bit of both and that The Surface Breaks is more a reflection of parts of our own society more than a tale about a mermaid who makes a mistake and my opinion on this changes back and forth frequently.
This was a hard book to review because although I vehemently hated parts of it there were other parts that made me think or look at certain situations differently and I enjoyed that. I think this is probably a book that is worth a read for anyone who is interested because I can see there being a lot of valid differing opinions and you all know I love a book that promotes a good bit of a discussion and I think this is definitely one of them.