If you’ve been reading This Northern Gal for a while, you know that I love Louise O’Neill AND fairytale retellings. So it is probably of little surprise that I grabbed this book as soon as I saw it in Waterstones. It took me a little while to get to it but as soon as I did, I loved it.
This is a retelling of The Little Mermaid, and a dark one at that. It explores questions of femininity, autonomy and power in a brilliant way. It certainly doesn’t hold back in the discussions that follow those questions. I had plenty to think about after reading The Surface Breaks but it didn’t stop it from being an enjoyable read.
Muirgen, the little mermaid of this story, has grown up dreaming of the world above and the mother that disappeared on her first birthday. She feels trapped by her father’s strict rules and wonders if she has any other options. She travels to the surface and there falls in love with a beautiful human man. The rest is straight up Disney (though perhaps a little darker) and Muirgen finds herself in the human world. It is not what she imagined. The freedom she wanted is nowhere to be found and she begins to question if there is anywhere at all where she can find some power all of her own.
She is the perfect character to explore these issues: somewhat naive but curious enough to start to learn more about her. Listening to her story is like getting wound up in a spell of Louise O’Neill’s writing. It is at its most magical in The Surface Breaks and has only cemented my position as a fan of this writer.
This book feels particularly potent with everything that is going on in the world at the moment. It is full of righteous anger and the difficult questions. It is truly modern but with an old story at its heart.