I was very excited to get my hands on Louise O’Neill’s feminist retelling of The Little Mermaid, The Surface Breaks, so much that I finished it in a day.
What The Surface Breaks is about:
O’Neill introduces us to the patriarchal mer-world ruled by the Sea King, the father of our protagonist. Gaia, also known as Muirgean, also known as Grace, is the youngest of 6 sisters and to the dismay of the kingdom is almost an exact copy of their late mother, Muireann. Gaia is fascinated by the human world and the envy of her sisters as the most beautiful, talented, and betrothed to the second most powerful man in the kingdom.
Except, Gaia doesn’t want to marry a man old enough to be her father who promises to “purify” her when their married. On a mermaid’s 15th birthday, she is allowed to go to the surface and see the human world. When it’s Gaia’s turn she witnesses a sea wreck and saves a boy from the carnage, whom she falls in love with.
Gaia has to decide is she wants to remain trapped in the sea, or risk everything in the hopes of her prince loving her back.
What I thought:
O’Neills version of The Little Mermaid is almost as poignant as the original, however the aspect of female empowerment saves us from entirely losing hope. Gaia’s tale doesnt follow Ariel’s either, but her end was fitting.
I paticularly enjoyed Louise O’Neills take on the Sea Witch, Keto, and her inclusion of sirens as the Rusakas.
It was a little bit cheesy at times, when there was overt cliche feminist moments, but they were few and far between so it wasn’t much of an issue.
O’Neill excels at creating protagonists who frustrating yet relatable. She’s a lot like Frieda from Only Ever Yours but not as… well bitchy as Emma or Sarah from Asking for It, and Almost Love. Although compelling characters, I wonder if she plans on dropping this trope in future work. There are a lot of similarities between The Surface Breaks and Only Ever Yours, Gaia is just like Frieda as she has a lot of sisters who are built to be silent, obedient, and beautiful. The only real difference is that Gaia is a mermaid, and not an Eve. As much as I loved the book, I fear she may become a one-trick-pony. Most protagonists are likeable characters, so it is a bold move for her to write heavily flawed leads, but it’s gettng repititve.
I’ve adored everything of O’Neill’s I’ve read and The Surface Breaks is no exception but I hope her next book takes a risk and does something else.
Overall, I would still absolutely recommend The Surface Breaks. Louise O’Neill has a beautiful writing style, and pulls off powerful stories. She’s easily one of my favourite authors, so even if I was harsh on this one, I still think highly of all her work. I want to emphasise that I still adored this book, I just have a lot of thoughts about it.