Review: The Seas - Samantha Hunt
Genre: Magical Realism Published: Tin House Books, july 2018, first published november 2004 My Rating: 3.5/5 Stars
"If one word can mean so many things at the same time, than I don’t see why I can’t”
Magical realism with a focus on the ocean. A cold coastal town, inhabited by damaged people. A girl who flees from her grief in the belief that she is a mermaid. This book, thematically, should have been an easy sell for me. The premise sounded right up my alley, the cover is one of the most beautiful ones I’ve seen in a long time and all in all this novel has a level of “strangeness” surrounding it, that has the effect of a sirencall on me. Strange however, was also the feeling I was left with after finishing this novel. I enjoyed many of the individual elements of the novel, but as a whole, there was a level of incoherence that prevented me from immersing myself fully. The setting is atmospheric and definitely carries the feeling of isolation and “displacement” that it’s going for, yet it didn’t feel like a real place to me. There is quite little description of the place, and what there was felt too dry to invoke much imagery in my mind. While not a problem on its own, for a genre like magical realism that relies heavily on atmosphere, I would have liked to see more of this.
The characters are interesting on their own as well. Our protagonist is very much an unreliable narrator, with a murky mind an damaged heart. She lost her father to the seas and has since then been drawn to the water, feeling displaced in her current place in the world. The one thing that seems to bind her to the land is her love for an equally damaged war-veteran, over 10 years her senior, who is reluctant to requite her love. It’s part fairytale, part very real tragedy. Despite how beautiful it was in theory, it missed the emotional mark for me. I didn’t feel it, so to speak.
Disconnect plays a big part in the narrative and themes of this story, yet it’s also the feeling that prevented me from enjoying it to the fullest. I felt disconnected from the story, and the story-elements felt disconnected from another. As is often the case with debuts, the author has a lot of talent, and a lot of great ideas, yet isn’t experienced enough to tie it all together technically. I have to say: I hate criticizing it for this reason. The novel is clearly very emotional, and written with great passion by the author, but it was the technical flaws that prevented it from converting that emotion to me.
The Seas is still very much worth a read in my opinion, but for a book with the potential of being a new favorite, and being a Orange-prize nominee, I can’t help but feel a little let down.
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