2023 was an appalling year for my reading list which barely reached double figures and left a disgraceful pile of “not finished” titles discarded by my bedside. More embarrassingly still, last year I spent much of my time imploring readers to review, knowing full well I had reviewed only 1 book in the whole twelve months. Hand duly slapped, here’s the first book started and finished in 2024. And the first review to boot.
A strange and haunting story of loss and love, Our Wives Under the Sea is weird and unsettling in all the best ways. After being missing for over six months, Miri now has her wife, Leah home. The reason for Leah’s absence is a mystery, shadowed by the strange behaviour Leah is now displaying. We know only that Leah has voyaged down to the ocean bed on a trip that was only supposed to last three weeks. Could what is happening to her be the result of psychological trauma, or something more sinister?
“When you stop underreacting, the horror is unique because it is, unfortunately, endless.”
Armfield keeps the suspense going throughout the story. In snippets told by Miri we watch Leah move from oddness to horror as she changes in ways that seem both incomprehensible and excused by Miri’s proneness to hypochondria. This could easily be a source of frustration for the reader, who would scream “get her to a hospital!” at the end of each chapter, but there’s a complexity in Miri that makes the isolation of her wife’s condition seem credible and acceptable.
While Miri throws us into the real and often disgusting present, Leah interjects each of her chapters with her past mission into the depths of the ocean to search for new, unexplored life. We learn slowly alongside her present demise what has led to this predicament. Or at least we learn some of what happened.
Our Wives Under the Sea blends horror with strange, but keeps readers in the dark about too many unfinished plot lines. We are left guessing on the mysterious company Leah worked for and her only male colleague is largely ignored, despite potentially suffering the same fate as Leah. Despite this, Miri and Leah’s story is filled with love and heartache that make this book hard to put down and enjoyable to read.
Armfield writes beautifully observed characters, touched with a realism that is both disturbing and comforting. She keeps tension and strangeness without being repetitive or vague, taking us on a voyage through high waves and eerily calm seas. A must-read for fans of the uncanny. This book reminded me of Piranesi (Susanna Clarke) and would be fantastic on screen.
I loved the writing and characters. I wish we had more time with the mystery. Four stars.
This book was a birthday gift and a good one at that.