Our Wives Under the Sea by Julia Armfield

Our Wives Under the Sea by Julia Armfield

Rating: 4 out of 5.

This was the weirdest and most delightful piece of art I have had the fortune of reading lately. Completely unexpected but painfully imaginative, reading Our Wives Under the Sea feels much like staring at fine art: somewhat confusing, utterly beautiful.

Leah has returned from six months in a submarine a different person, or something different altogether. Plagued by whatever she found at the bottom of the ocean, she spends several hours a day in the bath, spacing out, and worrying her wife, Miri. What was supposed to be three weeks under the water became six months with no answers, and even with Leah back, Miri still has no idea what happened there. Whatever stuck with Leah, like leeches on her skin, is slowly dragging her farther and farther from Miri and the life they once shared together.

This book was, again, totally not what I expected. I would classify this more in literary fiction with an element of romance, than in the horror/sci-fi I was originally expecting. I didn’t dislike that at all, in fact, Armfield’s writing style is really suited to this in-between space of contemporary magic. The narrative felt rooted in life even as it was carried away in fantasy; her prose was utterly human and naturally, heartbreaking. This is the story of a marriage uprooted by uncontrollable circumstances, but so strong in its love that it endures even tragedy.

Some comments, with no particular feelings about them: I couldn’t quite pinpoint what this was supposed to be a direct comparison of. “Our wives under the sea” as a concept comes from Miri exploring chat rooms of people with missing family members, and stumbling upon one where wives pretend their husbands have gone on missions to space. “My husband in space”, or MHIS, sparks Miri’s thoughts about her own loneliness and sense of abandonment, as Leah is missing and not heard of for several months. She jokingly suggests the direct comparison name for her own situation, Our Wives Under the Sea. The chat room comparison feels like it could be hinting at military relationships, or those who have missing family members as one suggested. The fact that Leah returns changed and hard to connect with or “save” furthers this theory, but I don’t really like it as a comparison for these relationships and situations – so I prefer not to think that’s the point here. If you live it, and then read this, the two don’t fit in my eyes.

Further, the plot line is wildly interesting and intriguing, but (spoiler alert) comes to nothing concrete. The ending does not wrap anything about the mystery of Leah’s change into a neat little bow. As a horror fan, I wish it did, but as someone who read and understood this story as one of marriage and the strength of love, I understand it is not strictly necessary. And, in fact, maybe even more terrifying for not having the answers, but having to accept things for what they are.

This oddly compelling novel will probably top my list for general recommendations this year – I think anyone can take something from this book and I will keep trying to sell it to my fellow readers! This is a bit of a long-winded review, but this is really an interesting book to dissect. This would make an amazing book club pick, as I think a group read would generate tons of conversation. Weird as it turned out to be, I highly recommend Our Wives Under the Sea.

Have a fabulous weekend. 😉


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