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Our Wives Under The Sea (2022)

by Julia Armfield

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8684725,051 (3.84)41
Fiction. Literature. LGBTQIA+ (Fiction.) Leah is changed. Months earlier, she left for a routine expedition, only this time her submarine sank to the sea floor. When she finally surfaces and returns home, her wife Miri knows that something is wrong. Barely eating and lost in her thoughts, Leah rotates between rooms in their apartment, running the taps morning and night. As Miri searches for answers, desperate to understand what happened below the water, she must face the possibility that the woman she loves is slipping from her grasp.… (more)
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English (42)  Dutch (2)  All languages (44)
Showing 1-5 of 42 (next | show all)
I really appreciate a book where, even weeks after finishing it, I'm still struggling to figure out what it was exactly that I read. Is it a confession? A fairy-tale? An extended metaphor? All or none of the above? Asking around my friends who have read this, and even looking at the reviews on LT, this book seems to produce divided opinions. Some of those are simply downright misguided: a lot of readers seem to expect this to be a naturalistic account of an undersea science trip and a realistic portrayal of two people's relationship. This is despite the fact that the novel features a person literally falling apart and what may or may not be a giant sea monster. But I kind of understand those responses because part of the unsettling aspect of the novel is that it does seem to set up expectations for a realistic treatment of its subject. But this ostensibly naturalistic setting is wrapped in layers of fantasy and myth right from the beginning, not to mention the inclusion of a menacing entity that may be a science startup or may be a government agency or may be something else again. This is definitely not a book for anyone who likes to have everything explained for them; when you finish this you *will* have questions, and you will be left puzzled.

But it seems clear that that is what Armfield is going for here. This is a book about what happens when we lose sight of the profound strangeness of ourselves to one another, and our relationship with the natural world. It looks at what happens when explanations fail to deliver the promised clarity, and to that end the repeated attempts to disrupt our narrative, character, and genre expectations makes a deliberately imperfect sense. ( )
1 vote BornAnalog | May 14, 2024 |
Wow, the writing in this book is beautiful. It’s very heavy with the metaphors, but done in such a perfect way. This horror book (which is what it is although I never really felt that was the focus) is a sapphic romance about connection, loss, and acceptance. With alternating perspectives, I really felt I understood the depth of their relationship from both sides. The story was truly heartbreaking and although I knew it was headed in the direction that it went, I stayed completely engrossed in their narratives.

ALMOST a five star…there is a fine line between leaving some parts up to the imagination and leaving too much unanswered that the reader is left confused and frustrated…I felt this book leaned too much toward the latter. I would have liked just a few more answers, even though I understand their relationship was supposed to be the focus and not as much what happened in the end. Great book, highly recommend! ( )
1 vote jbrownleo | Apr 1, 2024 |
3.5 stars actually. the ocean is scary! and 'when the grief is inevitable' is also scary!! ( )
1 vote griller02 | Mar 18, 2024 |
this was such a stunning exploration of love and loss and grief and mourning someone who is right in front of you with a bit of (lovecraft, annihilation, the shape of water- i've seen all these associations and agree) horror. julia's writing is gorgeous, she gives you the kind of sentences you just have to sit with, read over and over and appreciate. the story is a slow wade, and once you start receiving answers it's going to be just enough to infer and imagine but that's all you're going to get. AND I LOVE THAT SHIT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! this is for the ambiguous plot lovers, hill house enjoyers, and horror fans that love to leave feeling completely emotionally wrung out rather than with a racing heart. ( )
1 vote bisexuality | Mar 3, 2024 |
Very slow paced and very strange…like I can’t think of a single other book like this one. People keep comparing it to “Annihilation” and while I understand the comparison I disagree; “Our Wives Under the Sea” is much more introspective and tender, and overall I think the characters are much more likable. Those prose here is really lovely and evocative, and it fits the story wonderfully. Although I’m not sure who exactly I’d recommend this to, I’m so glad I read it!! A definite standout, if only for how unique it is. ( )
2 vote deborahee | Feb 23, 2024 |
Showing 1-5 of 42 (next | show all)
Death and the ocean beguile Julia Armfield’s debut novel Our Wives Under the Sea, a work that plumbs with striking subtlety what it feels like to live with the mystery of both. The book explores the transformations that test intimacy, ones that are perhaps even more unsettling than the sure fact of death....Blending elements of horror, gothic, and realism, Our Wives Under the Sea takes the bottom of the ocean as a speculative topography on which to explore the terrors of the mysterious gravitational pull we exert on each other....The ocean intrigues us for the same reasons love does: the challenge of knowing someone to their depths seduces us despite — or maybe because of — its seeming impossibility. Armfield’s work is an elliptical, leaky manual on how to live in the half-known life: the in-betweens of intimacy, the flux of not knowing, and the waves of surrealism that inundate the everyday.
 
This is a novel in which one of the narrators says, “For a long time nothing happened,” and she means it. There is little movement here in the fetid atmosphere that drifts between convalescence and hospice.... “Panic is a misuse of oxygen,” Leah warns, but by the climax of this eerie novel, I was misusing it with abandon.
added by Lemeritus | editWashington Post, Ron Charles (pay site) (Jul 12, 2022)
 
A turn toward horror at the end will satisfyingly rachet up the tension for some readers but may discomfit others. Told in stunning language, Armfield’s heartrending story of two people forced apart by trauma is enough.
 
Gothic elements are knitted throughout (“The deep sea is a haunted house: a place in which things that ought not to exist move about in the darkness” goes the tantalising first sentence). Everything that happens on the surface has symbolic, metaphorical meaning beneath. Take Leah’s observation that “things can thrive in unimaginable conditions. All they need is the right sort of skin.” This appears to refer to sea creatures, but the word choice allows for a much wider meaning.... This mode of expression is ubiquitous throughout. The prose is reaching for something, but what? This might be a book about the sea, about depression, illness, grief....We collect information, but there is also the understanding that we can never “know enough to escape from the panic of not knowing”....Indeed, though the writing is relentlessly exacting, Our Wives Under the Sea tends towards the unknowable, which might also be synonymous with death or the uncanny. There is an almost spiritual endlessness to its quest. Like all good novels, it goes deep and then deeper again.
 
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Epigraph
Consider the subtleness of the sea; how its most dreaded creatures glide under water, unapparent for the most part, and treacherously hidden beneath the loveliest tints of azure. Consider also the devilish brilliance and beauty of many of its most remorseless tribes, as the dainty embellished shape of many species of sharks. Consider, once more, the universal cannibalism of the sea; all whose creatures prey upon each other, carrying on eternal war since the world began.
Consider all this; and then turn to the green, gentle, and most docile earth; consider them both, the sea and the land; and do you not find a strange analogy to something in yourself? For as this appalling ocean surrounds the verdant land, so in the soul of man there lies one insular Tahiti, full of peace and joy, but encompassed by all the horrors of the half-known life. God keep thee! Push not off from that isle, thou canst never return!
Moby-Dick
ELLEN BRODY: There's a clinical name for it, isn't there?
MARTIN BRODY: Drowning.
Jaws
Dedication
For Rosalie, on dry land and elsewhere
First words
The deep sea is a haunted house: a place in which things that ought not to exist move about in the darkness.
Quotations
“I guess it must be weird,” she says—the sweet plum of her voice, the way her vowels seem to take up more space than the shape of her mouth allows—“living with someone again after such a long absence. I guess it must be weird,” she says, “having to share your space.”
The problem with relationships between women is that neither one of you is automatically the wronged party, which frankly takes a lot of the fun out of an argument.
Rather in the way that it's very easy to kill an orchid, it often seemed little short of inevitable.
Miri said this to me once: Every horror movie ends the way you know it will. If you're watching a movie about werewolves, you can be almost certain your hero will become one by the end. If you're watching a movie about vampires, same thing. Ghosts, too, I think, if the hero wasn't already a ghost to begin with. I thought about this a little, at the end of things.
I'm a Catholic, I said at one point, so I believe in punishment but not reward.
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Fiction. Literature. LGBTQIA+ (Fiction.) Leah is changed. Months earlier, she left for a routine expedition, only this time her submarine sank to the sea floor. When she finally surfaces and returns home, her wife Miri knows that something is wrong. Barely eating and lost in her thoughts, Leah rotates between rooms in their apartment, running the taps morning and night. As Miri searches for answers, desperate to understand what happened below the water, she must face the possibility that the woman she loves is slipping from her grasp.

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