Review: The Surface Breaks

I don’t actually know if I’d call this a reimagining as such because really it’s just the original story albeit IN MUCH MORE DETAIL.

Retelling not reimagining.

But. That doesn’t mean I didn’t like it.

Of course I liked it.

I love The Little Mermaid. I love the Disney version (and I don’t care if you judge me) and I have always had a soft spot for the tragically tragic Hans Christian Anderson version where there’s no Sebastian and no nice King Triton and not even a Prince Eric in the way Disney lets you think there is, and the mermaid DOES NOT LIVE HAPPILY EVER AFTER so this book pretty much jumped off the shelf at me. 

Also the cover. Have I seen a prettier cover this year? I don’t think I have. 

I liked it. Whilst I went into it expecting a reimagining I’m actually pretty pleased that it stayed as faithful to the HCA story as it did and I LOVED the depth it gave it, where it took that story, the unabashed way in which it stuck two fingers up at the patriarchy. 

This book is dark and it’s twisted and at times it makes for uncomfortable reading, just like all the best fairytales do. The Sea King is a villainous villain and the Sea Witch who we go into the story expecting to hate comes off as deliciously bad ass and the whole things makes you angry and it makes you wince and it makes you really examine a whole lot of stuff.

It’s an unbalanced book: there isn’t a single male character that has anything going for him. They are all, in their own way, complete bastards, which, lets be honest that’s a little bit unrealistic. Here’s the thing though: this is a book about mermaids; I don’t think it’s trying to be realistic, I think it’s trying to make a point - it’s about how women have been (in many ways still are) treated and how desperate they are to be heard. It works. It’s so relevant, especially in the way that Gaia (our mermaid) doesn’t try to fight for herself until the end - her unhappiness, her feeling of helplessness, her belief that she has to be obedient no matter what, it’s palpable from page one and it’s saddening. And also makes it so AMAZING when she finally finds her voice. Although not actually because you know: she gives that to the Sea Witch but you know what I mean.

The way she thinks shes in love with this human boy she’s rescued when actually it’s so obvious that he just represents an escape made me SO SAD - her dad is an absolute horror of a man and the man - at least 45 years her senior - who she’s been promised to is sexually abusing her in secret, of COURSE she thinks this beautiful man is her saviour. Any grass is going to be greener isn’t it. 

I think I did kind of expect some great feminist awakening which never really came but that didn’t make it any less of a feminist story for me: it’s a narration, a statement of fact, more of a ‘this is what is wrong with the world’ than a made up story where somebody drags themselves from the depths of misogyny and operation to change the world - lets be honest, as depressing a fact as it is, how often does that happen, really. It’s equally important I think to make s point and to say ‘this, actually is what is wrong here and we shouldn’t ignore it’ and that’s what this book does.

There was no one to hear them scream ‘no’. Or maybe there was; but that no wasn’t deemed worthy of being heard. Maybe they heard it and they didn’t care. A woman’s ‘no’ can so easily be turned into a ‘yes’ by men who do not want to listen.