“We are the sea.”
I have really conflicted feelings about this book, and they’re mostly a mess of disjointed thoughts and feelings (so apologies if this is a bit all over the place).
There were things I absolutely adored. The writing is simply exquisite, Kirsty Logan paints a picture of a water world that is so poignant and sharp it often prickles and hurts. She uses imagery in a pretty flawless way, which makes the book rich and beautiful, weaving symbolism and emotion in a way that’s gentle but packs a serious punch. Words building scenery and bridging to feelings – these are the biggest strengths here, and they are immensely powerful.
However. I think what let me down the most were the characters. Whilst there are two main characters around whom the story revolves, we get chapter-long glimpses into many others. This could have been the tool to give them each depth and dimension, and while I think this was the intent, I feel like it was a bit of a failure. Not the narrative structure, which I enjoyed, but the actual characters – where they could have become real humans, they remained very nearly character-types. If you’re going to play with perspective, I want you to show me a different aspect, not just confirmation from a different angle. The “villains” of the story were given motives, but remained very much within their own limited lane. Perhaps part of the reason I didn’t enjoy this as much as I wanted to was because I wanted so badly to see that set-up disturbed and subverted – people, real people, are, more often than not, surprises, full of nooks and crannies you can’t imagine from the outside. Whenever we got the point of view of a character you got surprises but only of the unsurprising kind, given how they were seen from the outside by everyone else. This isn’t to say all the characters are flat and one-dimensional, but that quite a few of the important ones felt constrained and limited to the roles imposed on them.
Similarly, some aspects of the plot weren’t as polished as they could have been. With most of this book I felt like there was at the center a contradiction in that it was both full of depth and lacking it. To draw upon all the language of the sea, which I loved and which made me yearn to be underwater, it was in places an ocean, deep as Marianas Trench and full of both wonders and dangers, in others a placid lake, or a pond, waist-deep and lacking the salty richness of the waves.
I definitely want to read more of her work – her writing is utterly gorgeous. But this book, poised between magical realism and fantasy (a little more than one, a little less than the other), for me left me feeling often unsettled and unsatisfied, like tasting something delicious made the rest of the meal more off-putting by comparison.