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?
For fans of Louise O’Neill, you will be well aware that her tales are never uplifting with happy after evers, they are dark and honest stories of toxic relationships, abuse and primarily stories where women are treated as inferior and ‘The Surface Breaks’ is no different. So if you’re expecting a lighthearted Disney tale, then you’re in for a shock.
Gaia hates her life, living at the bottom of the sea with her sisters waiting to her paired off with a man that she secretly loathes. Ever since, her mother disappeared Gaia has always wondered what’s above the water but her father, The Sea King has always forbidden her to go to the surface. But one day, she finally goes above the water and see a human who immediately steals her heart. She can’t get him out of her head and in a moment of madness gives her beautiful voice to the Sea Witch, in exchange for legs so she can get the human to fall in love with her. Once on water, Oliver the man she fell for rescues her and brings her to his home, but having no voice makes it hard for someone to fall in love with you and Gaia begins to question her thinking and even wonders if Oliver is the man that she fell for.
This is a dark and disturbing tale that does make for quite gruesome and unsettling reading in places as Gaia has to deal with the most horrible pains and injuries in her legs when she becomes human, I often the descriptions in these scenes to be incredibly vivid. She’s a striking woman that men both under and above the water are drawn too but Gaia wants to be seen as more than just a face, she wants to be recognised as person and as a woman and hates what her sisters and other mermaids have to go through in the Kingdom. Discriminated against and belittled, they have no value and are purely used to look good and produce babies.
This story is occasionally an angry and reactive read, with the way the men treat women and is most certainly a feminist and empowering story that does occasionally have the original fairytale weaved throughout it.
It has been pointed that there are similarities in this story to Louise’s debut ‘Only Ever Yours’, the women competing against each other and I would certainly agree with this statement.
A dark and sharply written retelling of a well loved classic, the story covers many current issues that Irish women are going through but like the recent Referendum verdict, it has a hopeful ending that leaves the reader hoping that the tides will change.
You can buy The Surface Breaks from Amazon and is available to buy from good bookshops.