Review: The Seawomen - Chloe Timms
Genre: Literary Fiction, Magical Realism Published: Hodder & Stoughton, June 2022 My Rating: 4/5 stars
If Kirsty Logan is going to inspire, endorse and even “tutor” a dystopian tale isolation, oppression and mermaid-lore, you can bet your bottom dollar I’m going to be excited for it. Luckily for me, The Seawomen delivered as one of the best summer-2022 releases I’ve had the pleasure of reading.
"Instead of answers, she gave me stories. That was how she boxed me up and sealed my mouth until all those questions had nicked my insides with tiny, invisible scars"
In an isolated island population, cut off from the outside world by treacherous seas, Esta is raised solely on the teachings of her community. Be pious, respect the village-elders, and stay away from the waters and the wicked Seawomen within. Do so, and God will reward you with prosperity and children within your “motheryear”. Fail to, and you risk being cast out to sea as a sacrifice to the Seawomen.
One day, an unexpected encounter by the waterside puts Esta in a dangerous position; questioning how much of her upbringing was gospel, and how much was lore.
The Seawomen drew me into its world from page one, and had me hooked from start to finish. It is in essence a familiar story that I’ve read before; one of female oppression, religious doctrine, and the destructive effects of unshakable tradition and superstition on an isolated community. Think The Crucible meets The Shape of Water, with the more modern “vibes” of Evie Wyld’s The Bass Rock and (fittingly) Kirsty Logans The Gloaming. Yet it’s the way in which it was told that elevates it. Chloe Timms beautiful writing brought to life the world of Eden before my eyes, drawing me in with its seemingly idyllic coastal beauty, before closing the net around me with its increasingly tense and claustrophobic atmosphere. Despite predicting many of the plot beats, I couldn’t pull myself away from the story. I was invested in Esta; from the dullness of her day-to-day life, to her journey to find the truth about her upbringing.
Despite its heavily dystopian (and fantastical!) elements, The Seawomen manages to be subtle, recognisable and relatable. Esta’s battle is one that has been fought (and will be fought) in many shapes and on many different scales. I was therefore extra pleased to see the author honour that subtlety and “realness” in the story’s ending, that felt fitting and satisfying in a way I wasn’t expecting it would.
Chloe Timms voice is a welcome addition to the canon of modern magical realism; one that expertly tells a memorable feminist story without falling into the trap of preaching the obvious. I genuinely hope we get to see more from her in the future.
Many thanks to Hodder & Stoughton for providing me with an ARC in exchange for an honest review. Find this book on Goodreads.