The Surface Breaks | A Disturbing Retelling That’ll Have You Punching the Patriarchy in the Throat


By: Louise O’Neill

Standalone | 320 Pages | Pub. 2018

dd heading

The Surface Breaks at a Glance

  • Overall Rating: ★★★
  • Heroine: Poor unfortunate soul
  • Dude: He’s no Prince Eric
  • Creepiness: The scariest true crime documentary
  • Brutality: George R.R. Martin is that you?

Pairs Well With

The Siren’s Song

  • 1 oz orange vodka
  • ¾ oz blue curacao
  • ¾ oz midori melon liqueur
  • ¾ oz pineapple juice
  • ¾ oz malibu coconut rum
  • ¾ oz spiced rum
  • ½ oz grenadine

Our Review

TW: Sexual assault, rape, child abuse

This book was frustrating. The original Hans Christian Andersen tale of The Little Mermaid is obviously more brutal than the Disney version we’ve all grown to love but The Surface Breaks takes this retelling to a whole new level of ouch. I’m giving this book 3 stars because although this book was creepy and hurt me, the writing was beautiful, the pacing well executed, and by the end I understood and support the ultimate message of this story.

The first half of the book is simply disturbing; 15 year olds stalking and falling in love with adults, an abusive lunatic father, a patriarchal society that’ll make you scream and grab your pitchfork, and creepy males who deserve violent deaths. Honestly, I wanted to drown this book no less than 15 times. The sisters being pitted against one another and being sold off like cattle to the highest bidder made me rage.

It wasn’t until the last half of the book that I understood what O’Neill was trying to do with this book and that’s because she left subtly behind and shoved feminist messages down my throat. And while I couldn’t agree more with the messages O’Neill was portraying about women’s rights and the struggle against the patriarchy, I would’ve loved for the story to have been more empowering for women than frustrating.

On top of the brutality of Muirgen (Ariel)’s existence and the evilness of the Sea King, I was pissed at the sexual assault and rape elements in this book and thought O’Neill’s attempts to turn these elements into positive feminist messages failed miserably. I almost felt as though this book was apologetic to rapists and bystanders and failed to send the kind of message that this was absolutely disgusting and not okay.

The love story in this book doesn’t exist because Oliver (this version’s Prince Eric) is a whiny little bitch. That’s all I got to say about him. Peasant. 

The only part of this book I actually loved was the Sea Witch. The Sea Witch, typically the antagonist in the Little Mermaid world, in The Surface Breaks is much more complex than the Disney version and is honestly my favorite feminist message from this book. She’s embraced her true self and said a big F* you to the patriarchy and is off living her best (albeit evil) self. Get it, girl.

Have you read The Surface Breaks? Let us know what you thought in the comments!

Drink Up - Teagan & Jess

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31 thoughts on “The Surface Breaks | A Disturbing Retelling That’ll Have You Punching the Patriarchy in the Throat

  1. Great review! I haven’t read this one and to be honest I don’t know if I will because I’ve seen such mixed reviews. I love the idea of a feminist Little Mermaid, I’m just a little worn out of reading about sexual assault at the moment. I haven’t read any O’Neill yet, though, so I definitely want to try some of her work soon.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you! Honestly I’d continue to shelf this one because I’m just not sure that this was the best/most empowering feminist Little Mermaid O’Neill could’ve given us. And the sexual assault elements were disturbing and not worth experiencing. I haven’t read other works by O’Neill either, if you do try I’ll look forward to your review to see if it’s worth a try!


    1. I think the juxtaposition or the beautiful cover and the disturbing words inside is what threw me off most. It’s like I was hoodwinked! I want to say “oh give it a try” but it’s so dark and disturbing I wouldn’t blame you if you hid this on your shelves for forever.

      B99 is the best show and source of GIFs ever!!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Wow, I feel like the cover of this book is really deceptive. It looks so cutesy and beautiful, and makes me think that the story inside will be some kind of fun romance novel. I WAS VERY WRONG APPARENTLY. This book kind of sounds very similar to Damsel and although I get that the author is trying to prove a point, I’m going to have to pass over it, I think.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Right??? I got hoodwinked so hard. I think it was extra brutal just because I was expecting something beautiful. I’ve heard of Damsel and I’m going to approach that one so wearily now that I’ve learned my lesson! I’d say you’re making a good call passing this one over!!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I’m becoming a bit obsessed with adaptations and retellings at the moment, so I’m glad you’ve covered this one! I’m totally on board with you relating most/rooting hardest for the Sea Witch. I never actually saw the Disney version of the story until a couple of years ago, well into my twenties – and I tell you what, it landed on me VERY differently than it does on all my friends who have the nostalgia for watching it as innocent children. I was HERE FOR URSULA! Ariel was a whingeing princess who had all the privilege in the world but couldn’t stop bitching about wanting to be on land (boo), and she couldn’t uphold the terms of a basic business contract. She had basically no parental supervision, the “love of her life” DIDN’T EVEN NOTICE THAT SHE HADN’T SAID A WORD TO HIM, and there was the sarcastic crab guy who just kind of followed her around for no apparent reason? Ugh. Sea witches are where it’s at!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I RELATE TO THIS SO HARD. You’d actually LOVE the sea witch in this even more than Ursula, she’s on point with her feminism and telling the whimpering princess what’s up. LOL I’m DEAD at your impression of Sebastian, he always annoyed me as a kid but you’re right as adult he’s just an awkward mansplaining rando following a child around 😹😹😹

      Liked by 1 person

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