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  • Writer's pictureThe Fiction Fox

Suspiciously Specific #3: Grief and the Ocean

For many people, the month of February is the month of romance and new love, but for me personally it has always had another connotation entirely. To me, February is about a different side of love; the side of grief, missing and cherishing the memory of something you loved. A big chunk of my family’s losses cluster between Christmas and the first half of February, so the anniversary of my mums death as the last in line functions as a memorial date for all of those for us. In honour of this personal association and mindset, both Suspiciously Specifics of this month cover a specific grief-trope I love. Starting off with grief and the ocean.

You have probably heard the saying “grief comes in waves” before, and maybe that’s where the literary connection between grief and the ocean was born. It could just as well be related to the nature of the ocean itself: vastly deep, uncontrollable and drowning, yet also uniquely beautiful and enticing. All these aspects and more are bound within these 10 (kind of 11) books, that all share that specific theme.

1. The Gracekeepers & The Gloaming – Kirsty Logan Genre: magical realism One-line synopsis: set in a waterlogged world flooded by the ocean, we follow two protagonists; Callanish who makes a living as a Gracekeeper, administering shoreside burials to the local islanders, and North; a circus performer with floating troupe of acrobats, clowns and dancers who sail from one archipelago to the next, entertaining in exchange for sustenance. A beautiful friendship blossoms when their stories intersect. The Gloaming follows the life of an unorthodox family of five on one of these islands in the wake of a tragedy that changed their lives forever. Editor’s note and trigger warnings: Kirsty Logan and I have a similar fascination with the ocean, and it shows in her works each and every time. Both these novels share a spot as they’re technically a very loosely connected duology. TW: degenerative illness.

2. Our Wives Under the Sea – Julia Armfield Genre: literary horror One-line synopsis: Miri spends months grieving the loss of her wife, after a deep-sea mission ended in catastrophe. When the presumed lost submarine unexpectedly re-emerges with its crew alive, Miri soon finds the wife she got back isn’t quite the same as when she left. Editor’s note and trigger warnings: body horror

3. The Last True Poets of the Sea – Julia Drake Genre: Young Adult Contemporary One-line synopsis: 16-year old Violet spends her summer researching her family history involving family-curses, shipwrecks and coastal tragedies to keep her mind of the recent loss of her brother. Editor’s note and trigger warnings: mention of suicide. One of the most underrated YA-novels on the subject I’ve read.

4. Migrations – Charlotte McConaghy Genre: literary fiction One-line synopsis: A young woman carrying the weight of her past on her shoulders leaves behind everything but her research gear, arriving in Greenland with a singular purpose: to follow the last Arctic terns in the world on what might be their final migration across the ocean to Antarctica. Editor’s note and trigger warnings: although Franny’s icy ocean journey is one of my all-time favourite novels, it’s a raw depiction of grief and trauma. TW: (sexual)violence, thoughts of suicide.

5. The Thing About Jellyfish – Ali Benjamin Genre: middle grade contemporary One-line synopsis: After her best friend dies in a drowning accident, Suzy is convinced that the true cause of the tragedy must have been a rare jellyfish sting. She sets out on a research-journey of her own in order to confirm her theory. Editor’s note and trigger warnings: for readers ca 8 and up.

Genre: middle grade contemporary One-line synopsis: a young girl uncovers family secrets when she visits the island town of August Isle, Florida, where her mother used to spend her vacations when she was a child. Editor’s note and trigger warnings: for readers ca 10 and up.

7. Hazel Bly and the Deep Blue Sea – Ashley Herring Blake Genre: middle-grade/young adult contemporary One-line synopsis: A novel about a girl navigating grief, trauma, and friendship as she explores the local legend of the mermaid that is said to haunt the ocean near their coastal town in Maine. Editor’s note and trigger warnings: for readers ca 10 and up.

8. The Hollow Sea – Annie Kirby Genre: literary fiction, magical realism One-line synopsis: When Scottie realises that she may never become a mother, she embarks on a journey to the North Atlantic archipelago of St Hia, chasing ghosts, folklore and answers about her own past in this beautiful meditation on motherhood in all its different forms. Editor’s note and trigger warnings: loss of child/miscarriage

9. Tides – Sarah Freeman Genre: literary fiction One-line synopsis: After a devastating loss, Mara flees her old life ends up adrift in a wealthy seaside town, working through her experience by self-imposed isolation and nightly ocean swims. Editor’s note and trigger warnings: TW: loss of child/still-birth/miscarriage.

10. Sea Bean – Sally Huband Genre: literary fiction One-line synopsis: When pregnancy triggers a chronic illness and forces her to slow down, Sally takes on a journey of beach-combing and self-healing, finding structure in her search for the titular sea-beans: beached seedlings from tropical vines, drifted across the Atlantic to the shores of Western Europe. Editor’s note and trigger warnings: please note this is a 2023 release, that has yet to be officially released. My opinions are based on the ARC provided by the publisher. For its beautiful depiction of a different kind of grief (grief over loss of health), it deserved a spot on this list however.

Slight spoilers for Suspiciously Specific #4: in this entry we'll cover 10 non-horror books, about melancholic ghosts.


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