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.
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 lose everything in the hopes he loves her back.
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. I paticularly enjoyed her take on the Sea Witch, and her inclusion of sirens as the Rusakas.
O’Neill excels at creating protagonists who frustrating yet relatable. She’s a lot like Frieda but not as… well bitchy as Emma or Sarah. 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. John Green seems to only know how to write one story: that of the disillusionment pretentious youth who wants change, and the meets a girl and somehow romance is enough to replace a desire for a more meaningful life. With the Fault of Our Stars sharing hints of this trope but being the exception due to Hazel being the narrator, but if Augustus was it would have been just like the rest of his discography. 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.