Our Wives Under The Sea

You must sign in to see if this title is available for request.
Pub Date 3 Mar 2022 | Archive Date Not set

Talking about this book? Use #OurWivesUnderTheSea #NetGalley. More hashtag tips!


Description

Named as book to look out for in 2022 by Guardian, i-D, Autostraddle, Bustle, Good Housekeeping, Stylist and DAZED.

Miri thinks she has got her wife back, when Leah finally returns after a deep sea mission that ended in catastrophe. It soon becomes clear, though, that Leah may have come back wrong. Whatever happened in that vessel, whatever it was they were supposed to be studying before they were stranded on the ocean floor, Leah has carried part of it with her, onto dry land and into their home.

To have the woman she loves back should mean a return to normal life, but Miri can feel Leah slipping from her grasp. Memories of what they had before – the jokes they shared, the films they watched, all the small things that made Leah hers – only remind Miri of what she stands to lose. Living in the same space but suddenly separate, Miri comes to realize that the life that they had might be gone.

Our Wives Under The Sea is the debut novel from the critically acclaimed author of salt slow. It’s a story of falling in love, loss, grief, and what life there is in the deep, deep sea.

Named as book to look out for in 2022 by Guardian, i-D, Autostraddle, Bustle, Good Housekeeping, Stylist and DAZED.

Miri thinks she has got her wife back, when Leah finally returns after a deep sea...


Advance Praise

'A wonderful novel, deeply romantic and fabulously strange. I loved this book.' Sarah Waters

'A contemporary gothic fairy tale, sublime in its creepiness.' Florence Welch

'Moves fluidly between horror story and love story, the gorgeous and the grotesque' Florench Welch

'Beautiful, otherworldly, like floating through water with your eyes open.' Daisy Johnson

'A strange, unnerving novel. A beautiful, lyrically written elegy.' Neel Mukherjee

'Like diving into the deepest depths of the ocean and finding beautiful and disturbing wonders.' Kirsty Logan

'Tender, strange, lucid and so assured. Kiran Millwood Hargrave

'Spooky and romantic: a gorgeous, lyrical novel that gets under your skin.' Sarvat Hasin

'A tale of the sea that swallows you whole and breaks your heart in the very best way.' Kristen Arnett

'A wonderful novel, deeply romantic and fabulously strange. I loved this book.' Sarah Waters

'A contemporary gothic fairy tale, sublime in its creepiness.' Florence Welch

'Moves fluidly between horror...


Available Editions

EDITION Other Format
ISBN 9781529017236
PRICE £16.99 (GBP)

Available on NetGalley

NetGalley Shelf App (EPUB)
Send To Kindle (MOBI)
Download (EPUB)

Average rating from 85 members


Featured Reviews

I found this book both haunting and lovely. The Sarah Waters blurb is apt, as the writing reminded me a lot of hers. The depiction of grief is very moving, and I was so invested in Miri and Leah’s relationship even as it seemed to be disintegrating. This book has cemented me as a fan of Armfield’s.

Was this review helpful?

Beautiful, creepy, devastating. Truly one of the best literary horror novels I’ve read, and the answer to decades of begging for good gay horror.

Was this review helpful?

I read this book in one setting - I couldn't leave it down. It's such a joy to read a book that is different. As a voracious reader I go through periods where I find many books blend into one. But Our Wives Under the Sea will not. This book will stay with me for a long time. Julia Armfield's writing is effortlessly superb and flows like water.! At times I felt as though I was in the submarine, it was both claustrophobic and ominous and yet Leah's thoughts of Miri and their relationship somehow allows pockets of air into the stultified environment. Their relationship is so real, I feel I know them. Leah's gradual wasting away is so beautifully described that it's easy to forget this is not a normal illness. I loved every part of this book and strongly recommend it.

Was this review helpful?

Wow, wow, wow! I knew when I read Salt Slow that Julia Armfield was an explosive talent, but nothing would have prepared me for how brilliant this debut novel is. Beautifully written - strange, lovely, sad, scary, and funny in equal parts - and with such a bravely-executed, fresh perspective. I loved how it sits between genres, floating between styles. Armfield particularly captures the difficulties and joys of relationships, with a partner, with friends, with strangers, and - perhaps most strikingly of all here for me - with parents, with such nuance. This brilliant observational talent is used to varying effect throughout: devastating and full of good humour, sometimes at the the same time. Perhaps a strange comparison, but those who found themselves addicted to BBC's Vigil for its claustrophobic nautical setting, high-tension, and powerful over-arching love story should reach for this literary debut right away.

Was this review helpful?

Miri is used to her wife Leah, a marine researcher, going on deep sea missions as part of her job. This time, though Leah returned months later than originally scheduled after the expedition has gone catastrophically wrong and it becomes quickly apparent that the Leah who returned, isn't the same person who left. Leah is extremely withdrawn and spends much of her time in the bath, drinking salted water. This dual perspective novel is in part a sapphic love story with Miri telling the present day story of Leah's return and recounting the back story of their relationship and marriage. Miri is keen to help Leah recover but each day sees a little more of her slipping out of her grasp. The chapters that are told from Leah's perspective focus on the deep sea mission and what happened to them when they were stranded on the ocean floor for months. There is a constant seen of claustrophobia and foreboding in those scenes in the submarine and that part whatever they encountered in their deep sea mission has resurfaced in Leah. This is a beautiful gothic novel of love, loss and grief and the secrets that lie hidden in the depths of the sea. Huge thank you to @netgalley and @panmacmillian for this ARC. This is definitely one that I will want to pick up a copy on publication day of March 3rd!

Was this review helpful?

I absolutely loved this book. It was creepy, tender and beautifully written, I fell in love with Leah and Miri’s love story and spent days wandering around thinking about the deep sea. I can’t wait to read it again when it comes out.

Was this review helpful?

One of my most highly anticipated reads and it did not disappoint. Much like her short story collection, salt slow, Julia Armfield's first novel is exquisitely written with beautiful, precise prose that makes you want to cry with how good it is, and also has a strange and compelling narrative. Our Wives Under the Sea is a haunting, lyrical horror story. Leah went on a research trip on a submarine that went horribly wrong and when she returns to her wife Miri, she's a different person, scaring Miri and causing her to confront her grief about her dead mother. It's smart and chilling and sad - I want to read it all over again. Thank you to Picador for the ARC.

Was this review helpful?

Really enjoyed this book. It has a great mystery at its heart which keeps the plot moving at a good pace, and a tender and beautiful depiction of a relationship at its core which, for me personally, was the most captivating part.

Was this review helpful?

‘’The deep sea is a haunted house: a place in which things that ought not to exist move about in the darkness. Unstill, is the word Leah uses, tilting her head to the side as if in answer to some sound though the evening is quiet - dry hum of the road outside the window and little to draw the ear besides.’’ Miri’s world falls apart when her wife, Leah, seems to have been lost in a deep-sea mission that went awry. When the impossible happens and Leah returns, their life changes in a way that no one could have foreseen. Leah has become water. She is slowly turning into a nymph of the sea, an otherwordly creature whose condition cannot be clarified. The only thing that can sustain the facade of normality is love. But is love enough to save a life? Following her superb collection Salt Slow, Julia Armfield’s debut novel is an ethereal, haunting, mystical masterpiece. ‘’I want to explain her in a way that would make you love her, but the problem with this is that loving is something we all do alone and through different sets of eyes.’’ Julia Armfield composes a shuttering elegy of love and grief, the sacrifices we are bound to make when we decide to share our life with the one we love, the compromises of the past, the hopes and fears that control the future. In a modern fable, in a contemporary folk tale of the sea and its mysteries, Leah and Miri struggle against the unpredictable current of Life. When the one you thought lost forever returns, when you see that they have become a shadow of themselves, when you find yourself ready to surrender to the inevitable, memories can give you strength. When you know that you would eventually give up everything to experience those magical moments of falling in love with someone all over again, then you have only one choice. To love. There is no alternative. ‘’I love going into the cinema when it’s still light and then coming out in the dark. Makes me think about the way a city is never the same. I mean, the way everything changes. Every night, every minute, it’s over and things will never be the same again.’’ Is there stability and certainty? Our lives can change within seconds. The dry land is as fluid as the sea, our daily course may seem mundane but are we keen on surprises? Are we fond of dreams in which nightmares have made their lairs? Julie Armfield poetically describes the fight of both women as Miri tries to stay afloat and Leah struggles to make sense of a world that is no longer known to her. Their thoughts and unique voices are portrayed to perfection, flawlessly communicated, so real, so familiar, so tangible. ‘’My heart is a thin thing, these days - shred of paper blown between the spaces in my ribs.’’ We will find references to Kon-Tiki and the Blood Eagle of the Nordic civilization. Mysticism and religious folklore with a particular focus on St Brendan, one of my favourite Irish saints, the seafarer who battled against monsters and demons. The myths of the tides, the voyages in the seven seas, the unbreakable and devious bond between the human and the ocean with its treasures and its dangers. [‘’...and then one night he comes upon a man chained to a pillar of rock, in the middle of the sea - just there, just there in the ocean like this great, tall fang rising from the waves, this thing that shouldn’t be there, a man at the mercy of the elements. So St Brendan calls out to him and he learns that the man is Judas - Judas who gave Jesus up for dead - Judas, the failed apostle - and St Brendan learns that Judas is there because the way in which the Lord chooses to show him mercy is to free him from his torments, to free him from hell on Sundays and Holy Days, and cast him adrift on the ocean, where he can at least feel the wind on his face.’’ And carried by the waves and the wind are our regrets, our sorrow, our love and the things that were foolishly left unspoken… This novel is destined to be one of the masterpieces of 2022. ‘’Ghosts don’t speak’’, she said to me. ‘’People misunderstand this. They think that when you’re haunted you hear someone speaking but you don’t. Or not usually. Most of the time, if you hear something speaking, it’s not a ghost - it’s something worse.’’ Many thanks to Picador and NetGalley for the ARC in exchange for an honest review. My reviews can also be found on https://theopinionatedreaderblog.wordpress.com/

Was this review helpful?

i read and loved salt slow by julia armfield last year and i was very excited to read her first full length novel. following two women and their marriage after one of them returns from a submarine trip that went wrong, it's a slow unwinding of how they both cope with the event, how their lives do and don't work now, and what horrors might be lurking under the surface i really liked the direction this book took, i had no idea where it might be going and there was something so intriguing and beautiful about the writing that i just couldn't stop reading i've watched a loooot of horror films recently and yet the images in this book have stuck with me and haunted me more

Was this review helpful?

Our Wives Under the Sea is easily the best fiction I’ve read for a few months. I really adored Salt Slow and have been very much looking forward to Julia Armfield’s first novel – I was relieved to find that this was easily as absorbing as I’d been hoping for. It’s a creepy, haunting, twisting story about the sea and love. Julia’s writing is consistently lyrical and mesmerising, and I was really impressed with the way the narrative dealt with grief and that sense of aching loss. The novel opened up so many speculative strands that I reached the end of it with more questions than I started with, but I loved wandering down these threads and found myself easily trusting that the novel knew where it was going. I'm still finding some of the imagery and phrases running through my head a few days after finishing it. I’ll definitely be pre-ordering (the cover of the physical edition looks beautiful) and am already looking forward to slowly reading through it again. (Massive thanks to Picador and NetGalley for the e-ARC!)

Was this review helpful?

I absolutely loved this book, such a page-turner, heart-warming and terrifying at the same time! I really enjoyed how Armfield craftily interweaves Miri's loving, realistic and intimate memories of her wife before her mysterious trip with Leah's recollections of what actually happened under the sea. This supernatural novel is a tight-paced tale of the many facets and expressions of unconditional love and the sense of loss when your favourite person changes in front of your eyes. I'll recommend it to everyone I talk books with!

Was this review helpful?

Wow how to describe this book! I didn’t know what to expect from this book and I didn’t expect it to literally be about… wives being under the sea. I loved Julia Armfield’s short story collection Salt Slow so I’d been so excited for her first novel. Our Wives Under the Sea is told from the perspectives of Miri, after her wife Leah comes back from a submarine exploration gone wrong. It’s also interspersed with chapters from Leah’s diary on board the submarine. This book is beautiful, deeply moving, incredible real yet wonderfully mythic. I found myself so connected to Miri, who is so well-realised. Is it a fairy tale? Horror? Fantasy? Whatever genre is it wonderfully dark and atmospheric. I loved it

Was this review helpful?

Miri has been waiting for her wife Leah to return from her subaquatic mission that has gone on much to long. When she does come back, she is different, changed by her time beneath the sea. This haunting book is many things: a meditation on loss and letting go; a love story, all in an almost gothic frame that touches on realism then moves adjacent to it. Memorable, sad and orIginal.

Was this review helpful?

I don't know how to formulate the words for this - I might come back and write more when I've had time to think. Our Wives Under the Sea is beautifully written - the prose is gorgeous, and the tone changes between points of view are clear and match the characters perfectly. Miri and Leah are both wonderfully fleshed out - they continuously felt real, even as the events depicted became less so. I was utterly engrossed by this, and read the whole thing in under 24 hours - I've seen other reviews say to try and immerse yourself totally, and read this in one session, and I think that's sound advice. This was a beautiful and haunting book - I'll be thinking about it for a long time, and can see a re-read happening soon.

Was this review helpful?

🌊Our Wives Under The Sea by Julia Armfield🌊 Publication Date: 03/03/2022 Score: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ Spoiler Free Review: I am absolutely in love with this book! The story follows Miri and Leah’s relationship after Leah returns from a deep sea expedition. However, she’s not the same as she was before she left, and Miri struggles to cope with this new version of her wife and the mystery of what has happened to her. I loved the split narrative of this novel and felt equally invested in both Miri and Leah’s story. I don’t want to give too many details away about plot but the premise alone had me hooked! (How many books do you see about submarines and deep sea exploration?!) I haven’t read any of Armfield’s writing before but there were so many genuinely beautiful moments. This book is equally full of romance and mystery - much like the ocean’s depths themselves. I cannot wait for this book to come out, I’m itching to get my hands on a physical copy to add to my bookshelf. I think this book is a very strong contender for my favourite book of the year!

Was this review helpful?

This book is really amazing, one of my favourites of this year. I read her collection of short stories previously and absolutely loved it, so I was quite excited to read this novel and it certainly did not disappoint. I love the relationship between the main characters and the weird fablelike aspects of the narrative. I will definitely recommend this book.

Was this review helpful?

I tore through this book in a few days and enjoyed every moment. This book slowly creeps up on you and leaves you returning to it and its characters long after the end. A creepy, quietly devastating story about love and loss, told deftly and with a light touch.

Was this review helpful?

I've had a hard time with literary fiction in the past few years. I've struggled with its theme and language, tending to think it pretentious and flowery, and thinking maybe it's just not the genre for me anymore. But then comes along Our Wives Under the Sea. It is a devastating and beautiful novella, that starts deceptively simple, a relationship under strain after one partner returns home from a mission much later than they were supposed to. But it emerges into something much more mysterious. The character work is lovely, with Miri and Leah distinct and flawed, both with their own baggage. The language is poetic and confident, but it does not make the fatal error of piling metaphor on metaphor, nor trying to be too lyrical. It shifts its genres deftly, but without losing its identity. And while some of the twists can be seen coming, it never does fully resolve the mystery of what happened down in the deep. Thanks to NetGalley and Pan Macmillan for a free copy of this book.

Was this review helpful?

Rating: 5/5 This is the lesbian cosmic-aquatic horror I never knew was missing from my life. I think I might be head over heels in love. (Spoiler warning.) The prose is fluid, soft and grieving one moment and overwhelmingly forceful the next. Her command over language is beautiful. Not one page in and I was already mesmerized. A line of tension draws throughout the novel, inching forward slowly yet always baiting me forward. I never felt bored. I always wanted to keep going, wanted to know. I think I was as desperate as Miri was. I would compare it to Lovecraft, but that would be an insult to Armfield's vastly superior work. That said, the pace is rather slow; it's not a breakneck thriller where new revelations come at every corner. It's more of a dripping faucet. That is ideal for me, though. I like slow thrillers, where nothing is rushed and the pain and grief are luxuriated in rather than pushed to the side. I will say that the novel also ended with a lot of loose ends. As a reader, that was somewhat unsatisfying; I do think that the story stands on its own and the ending works, but I also want to spend more time in this world with these characters. I want to know more about the Center, what happened to Matteo, what and how Miri does with her life now that Leah is gone. I don't know if there's a second novel planned, but if there is, I will be first in line to descend.

Was this review helpful?

"Gorgeous, creepy, totally suppressive, a book destined to be read and reread." Miri thinks she has got her wife back, when Leah finally returns after a deep-sea mission that ended in catastrophe. It soon becomes clear, though, that Leah is not the same. Whatever happened in that vessel, whatever it was they were supposed to be studying before they were stranded on the ocean floor, Leah has brought part of it back with her, onto dry land and into their home. Moving through something that only resembles normal life, Miri comes to realize that the life that they had before might be gone. Though Leah is still there, Miri can feel the woman she loves slipping from her grasp. Our Wives Under The Sea is the debut novel from Julia Armfield, the critically acclaimed author of salt slow. It’s a story of falling in love, loss, grief, and what life there is in the deep deep sea.

Was this review helpful?

“I want to explain her in a way that would make you love her, but the problem with this is that loving is something we all do alone and through different sets of eyes”. Miri’s wife, Leah, gets stuck on a deep-sea expedition, and when she returns, Miri is overjoyed - but Leah has changed, beneath the sea, and what follows is a heartbreaking, deeply unsettling, and utterly captivating portrait of love and pain. I am an enormous fan of Armfield’s work; her collection of short stories, salt slow, is one of my all-time favs. So I went into this novel hungry for more weirdness, and I was not disappointed. Like much of Armfield’s work, the novel is difficult to categorise. It’s a queer love story, a horror novel, a medidiation on grief. It’s slender - my digital copy clocked in at just under 200 pages - but packs in so much. The dual narrative skips back and forth between Miri in the present and Leah in the past, so we learn some of what happened to Leah while also feeling Miri’s present feelings about what happened to Leah. It’s a clever structure that reveals subtly and slowly, never quite telling us the story we want or expect. Armfield instead gives us a story filled with unease and ambiguity, and horrible little details that will stay in my mind for some time. But it’s also a tender love story - the love between Miri and Leah is palpable, bleeding off the page for both parties. They are deeply obsessed with one another in the most gorgeous way, and the bond between them is so clear, and so deep. Because Armfield is an incredible writer, the novel is also really good on modern life, and all its little frustrations - Leah repeatedly trying to get hold of a person on a phone line, casual homophobia towards a lesbian couple, characters losing their college education to remebering “methods of treating black mould...passworeds and roast chicken recipes and the symptoms of cervical cancer”. These real-world anxieties push up against the quasi-supernatural events that are also taking place, leaving the reader as confused, helpless and unsettled as Miri. In short, Our Wives Under The Sea is going to be one of the books of 2022 - it’s a haunting, dizzying, outrageous, terrifying read, rich in texture and feeling. I can’t wait to read it all over again when it’s released.

Was this review helpful?

Our Wives Under The Sea is an incredible addition to the "came back wrong" subset of horror literature. Readers chasing straight-forward answers will be left unsatisfied- I would have loved to learn more about the shady institute which funded Leah's expedition- but fans of Victor Lavelle's The Changeling and Stephen Graham Jones' The Only Good Indians should be content to be intrigued. Content warnings for a fair amount of 'gaslighting' (unsettlingly familiar to anyone with employer-linked health insurance) and body horror specifically involving eyes and skin.

Was this review helpful?

What an absolutely beautiful and haunting story! I've been looking for a 'different' horror novel and I'm so glad I found this. Definitely my book of 2021!!

Was this review helpful?

A masterpiece! OUR WIVES UNDER THE SEA is a perfectly-pitched work of speculative literary horror with a fabulously romantic love story at its heart. It's certainly one of the top 5 books I've read this year and I will be very surprised if it doesn't crown a lot of best-of lists and award shortlists when it comes out in 2022. Julia Armfield's great talent as a writer is in balancing the mundane and the fantastic, showing us normality gone askew in unsettling and increasingly disastrous ways. This worked to critically acclaimed effect in her short story collection 'salt slow' but is the kind of technique it's much more difficult to keep up through a lengthier piece of work. That difficulty is why it's so remarkable how well OUR WIVES pulls it off. Every moment of spine-tingling body horror is grounded and juxtaposed with something quotidian and believable - which of course makes the horror all the more horrifying. The novel also balances pathos and bathos perfectly, which acts as a tonic in comparison with some of the tiresomely bleak and portentous fiction currently being published in this genre. It is surprisingly funny, interspersing the otherworldly creepies with the kind of biting observational wit about modern life (weird upstairs neighbours, friends with annoying boyfriends, odd corners of the internet) that characterises the best of its peers in contemporary literary realism. It also made me cry (the ending left me totally bereft; even thinking about it as I write this I have a bit of a lump in my throat). And on a sentence level it really is extraordinary: faultless prose rhythm that doesn't let up until the last page, carefully considered imagery that never feels overplayed or like the author is prioritising style over substance. Really the prose styling leaves a LOT of contemporary literary fiction in the dust. I want to note as well that I think there are stories being told in our specific, odd historical moment of 'increased LGBTQ+ representation in fiction' that are about two women in love which don't really... feel like they're about lesbians? Stories that in fact feel like if you switched the gender of one of the protagonists and find-replaced their pronouns in the manuscript, the rest of the book could carry on exactly the same as when it was about a queer relationship. It is a true breath of fresh air to me that OUR WIVES UNDER THE SEA doesn't do this. It is a book that thinks very hard about what it means to be queer and specifically what it means to be a lesbian. It is full of small true moments: not just about oppression or the slings and arrows of being queer in a heterosexual world - although it is very smart about that too, without ever feeling didactic or heavy-handed - but about the ways in which lesbian relationships are different, the ways in which lesbians are different. This I think is what makes the love story at the heart of the book feel so real and so powerful and so moving. I can't recommend it enough and have already pre-ordered a copy.

Was this review helpful?

A haunting and grim look at grief and loss, Our Wives Under the Sea develops the best bits of Armfield's short story collection (salt slow) - bodily horror, sharp and scary images, compelling narrative, cutting moments of human pain and the difficulties of relationships. The book is well-researched, incorporating marine biology and geography to encapsulate the sheer horror of the ocean, its vast and terrifying potential, conveying that the sea makes the perfect horror story setting as a result of its reality: rather than creating her own supernatural, super scary environment, Armfield makes this place of science, fact and exploration the height of horror. The language is claustrophobic and taut with tension in a way that mirrors Leah's submarine experience; is fluid and flowing and bursting in a way that mirrors the water that runs through the narrative. Armfield is just so good at creating stories that make the body the site of pain, gruesomeness, repulsion, and interweaves her compelling narratives with moving explorations of human interaction and suffering that go ocean-deep.

Was this review helpful?

This book shocked me right out of a reading slump and blew me away. I was so looking forward to this after falling in love with Armfield’s short story collection, Salt Slow, but Our Wives exceeded all my expectations and had me clinging to every word. The prose is so lyrical, so poetic, and so haunting; the descriptions are like pictures I wish I could frame and hang on my walls; the imagery is so shockingly clever it made me pause and reread line time and again. I can’t emphasise how much I loved this - Julia Armfield is brilliant.

Was this review helpful?

strange and unsettling and beautiful, like looking at sunlight from underwater—i can't wait to re-read (and to own) a physical copy!

Was this review helpful?

This is probably one of the most unusual and haunting books I’ve read for a long time, with such stunning and assured writing it’s difficult to believe this is Julia Armfield’s debut novel. The story is in two parts running alongside; the present day where Leah returns from her mission increasingly strange and unwell, and the past where Leah is writing about what is happening on board the submarine. Leah’s wife Miri, struggles to cope with the Leah who has returned. Her wife is not how she was and is out of control of any sort of recovery. It’s difficult to say too much about this change without giving spoilers, but the way Leah returns but is not the same person, not whole, is truly frightening. Miri has her wife back after she had thought she was dead, but she misses her now than before. This is haunting to read, but written in ordinary careful everyday prose, so you don’t doubt the possibility of this happening at all, it’s completely credible and the details feel authentic whilst being also the strangest and most incredible. The context of this is also their past, a sweet and quirky love story between the two women, Miri feeling apart from life until the lovely Leah turns up, helping her laugh at herself. The two of them make a good life for themselves together, a good team, ‘a fused, inextricable thing’ as Miri says early in the book. It’s all ‘a long time ago’ that they met but Miri remembers some of the tiny things that made her love Leah and the game they used to have remembering their early times together. Their love is in the memories as well as their cosy present life, but when Leah comes back from her mission this is all different and they can’t return to how they were. Although this is a book of huge drama in some ways, the small details also stick with you – the types of books that Miri likes, the noisy neighbours that they never actually see, watching ‘Jaws’ together, Miri’s prickly mother that she loved ‘hard and at a distance’. It’s a book of the ordinary and everyday but also a book of terrifying and amazing things as well with some sentences that I had to read twice to make sure I’d understood what the writer had said. It’s a book that could be read a second or third time I think, and be just as interesting and new each time.

Was this review helpful?

Our Wives Under the Sea by Julia Armfield “Every horror movie ends the way you know it will” writes Armfield in her debut novel. Perhaps, this is the phrase that runs in parallel to her story. Its proleptic plot, uncanny tone, eerie atmosphere and ordinary interjections of life create at once the unheimlich, the ‘disturbing familiar’ that one is impelled to trace and chase through her novel. There have been sketches and outlines of this story before – protagonist comes back from journey altered and loved one can only bear witness to what they have become (Miri) loved one takes journey into the unknown that goes catastrophically wrong (Leah). Though like the sea Armfield is not interested in boundaries and boarders as her debut novel seems to commingle into the genre of Science Fiction. As Marine biologist Leah’s mysterious journey into the “the ocean [that] covers its tracks” and spasmodic “sea soliloquies” illustrate that this is a book thar charters into many different waters. Although Armfield’s novel is mainly situated in the depths of the gothic, “the sea is a haunted house” she writes on the opening page; her debut novel contains many different types of hauntings. Indeed, "Our Wives Under the Sea" by Julia Armfield is characteristic of the Nautical Gothic as her epistolary novel features its various motifs: the sea, the other, ambiguity, claustrophobia, and isolation all of which combined make a submerging read. “To know the ocean […] is to recognise the teeth it keeps half-hidden”; Armfield deftly describes the ocean’s mouth. One willingly commits to being drowned in the atmosphere she has created as her hypotyposis of the maritime and what lies above it: “the night is cold, white lights a curve of a moon like a finger crooked into a claw”, “late September, washed-down dregs of a liquid summer” make "Our Wives Under the Sea" a breath-taking read. There are many wives under the sea. Armfield constructs them through the multiplicity of memory, flashbacks, and the non-linear structure that artfully anchor her book. Indeed, her dual narrative ensures that plurality is at the heart of this story. Despite the story’s protests that “loving is something we all do alone and through different sets of eyes”, there seems to be a preoccupation with multiplicity that dominates her story. This is because Armfield’s decision to splits her chapters between two alternate narrators (Miri and Leah) aptly conveys the many different multitudes that exist between people in love'. Indeed, her structuring of the story so that Miri’s perspective on Leah’s return proceeds Leah’s departure into deep sea convey the duality of "Our Wives Under the Sea" as opposites (return and departure) are paired. Paradox is an essential part of Armfield’s story telling. Absence is given a physical entity by Armfield through her deft description of the distance that can exist between two people even when they are next to each other. Near the beginning of the novel, she writes of “the silence like a spine” that has formed between Miri and Leah. In a way the reader spends the rest of the story examining “the new shape” their “relationship has taken” on. In an interview with Cosslet in the guardian Armfield described herself as having a preoccupation with “bodies, and the way that they kind of contain us and betray us”. Body Horror is also a key feature of this story .Almost all that she depicts is given a strange corporeality: the city “ is veined with inland tributaries” ,there is ‘bloating’ to a building” “ noise bleeds through the ceiling” of their flat but how Armfield describes the human body of her protagonist is truly abject: “blood would rise unheeded through her pores , so that sometimes I’d come in and find her pincushioned, dotted red as if pricked with needles” . "Our Wives Under the Sea" probes many questions Are there some experiences that one can never come back from? What does it mean to return at all? Is there a point when someone is lost completely? Armfield’s prose poses these questions too beautifully for them to be ignored.

Was this review helpful?

Readers who liked this book also liked: