My thoughts: Imagine you are Samantha Hunt. Your debut novel, which was published in the U.S. in 2004 and mostly forgotten gets a new life with its publication in the UK last year. Then it gets nominated for the Orange Prize, two years after your second novel, The Invention of Everything Else, was shortlisted for the Orange Prize. It's a lovely story, and I was looking forward to reading this "modern retelling of the little mermaid story."
I am not a reader drawn to fairy tales. I'm drawn to strong writing and strong characters. The Seas was hard to read because although the writing was strong the characters were not. I did not attempt to summarize this novel because it slowly unfolds over time. Our unnamed narrator gives more details as time goes on, but she remains mysterious. I'm tempted to call her an unreliable narrator, but I 'm not convinced that's entirely the case. She sees the world differently; she thinks she's a mermaid. To others, however, she is a sad, strange girl afflicted with mental illness. I'm still not sure where reality and magical realism ultimately end in this book, and I'm quite sure that was Hunt's point.
To that end, many will love this novel. It dances around reality and fantasy without ever being firmly in both. There are some truly lovely passages that gave me hope for this book early on:
"Don't forget that the ocean is full of everything except mercy."There were also initial portrayals of characters I adored:
"My mother is regularly torn between being herself and being my mother."And bits of whimsy to delight:
"He tells me about an idea he has for an opera where all the gods of all the religions of the world battle it out in song."Ultimately, it didn't work for me. What began as peculiar honesty from our intriguing narrator and ventured into magical realism and a scientific approach to the reality of what we see quickly became flat and dull despite my enjoyment of Hunt's language. At times, I sensed this novel began as several short stories she somehow stitched together because the chapters are inconsistent lengths and all uniquely titled.
Favorite passage: "I am worn out by desire for him like a girl in some book."
The verdict: In the end, I didn't quite buy into the characters or the narrative. Despite Hunt's somewhat ironic assertion that "details make a story even as unbelievable as mine believable," neither the details nor the narrative made this novel believable, yet it couldn't compel me to suspend belief and enter its world either. Just as our narrator thinks she is a link between the ocean and earth, I felt trapped between two realities in this meandering story.
Rating: 3 stars (out of 5)
Length: 208 pages
Publication date: October 3, 2004 (it's in paperback now)
Source: I bought it for my Kindle (for only $2.99!)
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