Review: 'Our Wives Under the Sea' Strange and Deep

by Christopher Verleger

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Wednesday July 27, 2022

Review: 'Our Wives Under the Sea' Strange and Deep

Julia Armfield's debut novel, "Our Wives Under the Sea," is a beautiful, unsettling, meditative examination of a relationship in ruins that reads like a disparate collection of thoughts one would be reminded of or feel the need to share with a loved one only after learning they may never see each other again.

Leah is a marine biologist who spends more time underwater than on land. Her latest expedition is supposed to last only three weeks, but complications ensue with the submarine that leave her and her two crewmates trapped on the ocean floor for more than six months. Leah returns home a shell of her former self, in a state of mental and physical collapse. Her wife, Miri, plays nursemaid and tries to keep some semblance of order while trying to maintain her own sanity.

Speaking in alternating chapters, Leah recounts the timeline of events on the submarine, and Miri describes their present life since Leah's return. Leah's narrative is concise and almost professorial, yet stark and terrifying, rife with details of her claustrophobic quarters and her fellow travelers' maddening temperaments. Meanwhile, the grieving Miri struggles to remain steadfast as she watches her unrecognizable wife disintegrate, yet grounded — albeit in brief increments — by the memories of their former life together. When each of them reminisces about the other, they sound remarkably similar, which helps to paint a more pleasant picture of this couple.

For a relatively short book, it felt longer, but not necessarily in a bad way. Not a whole lot happens, and many questions remain (I suspect deliberately) unanswered, but the thin plot is not why I appreciated this novel, nor would I speculate it's the reason the author wrote it.

Although it's a strange (and sometimes unintelligible) piece of work, Armfield's haunting, melodic prose coupled with Leah and Miri's implicit love affair make for a worthwhile and especially memorable read. Given the multitude of water-themed metaphors featured throughout, I think the author would appreciate my calling it a novel of vast depth and reflection.

"Our Wives Under the Sea" is available now from Flatiron Books.

Chris is a voracious reader and unapologetic theater geek from Narragansett, Rhode Island.