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Pop Culture Advent Calendar, Day 15: The Surface Breaks

Inspired by NPR, every day (gulp) from December 1st to 24th, I will be highlighting

a pop culture moment from this year that I loved. Today I talk about my a feminist retelling.

This is a feminist retelling of The Little Mermaid, both the Hans Christian Anderson version and the Disney one, by Louise O’Neill. I’ve talked about Louise O’Neil before. She often writes Young Adult books about girls trying to navigate and make sense of a world that isn’t made to bolster them up, a world that can’t function without their oppression. This story centres around Gaia, a young mermaid who lives with her sister, who dreams of things bigger than her - love, escaping her father’s rule and kingdom and swimming to the surface, just like her mother did years ago. When she does swim to the surface on her sixteenth birthday, she gets drawn in by a boy whose life she saves, and Gaia gives up almost everything to be with him, and to get him to fall in love with her.

Louise O’Neill is one of those authors who doesn’t let you up for air (pardon the pun). You can’t breathe for the patriarchy, it’s in every sentence. Gaia escapes from one overtly sexist kingdom to a more sublty sexist one, where, the more she gets to know the guy she’s infatuated with, and his mother, and his friends, the more she observes where the power lies, who is able to be free, and who has to make sacrifices and compromises. Who is traumatised by the actions of people around them. It’s a really interesting take on the ‘fish out of water’ trope, when the fish is recognising that the same things that kept her unhappy and unfulfilled in her home are the same things that keep women unhappy in our world. It’s a sort of not takedown, but deconstruction of the type of guy ‘Prince Eric’ or any sort of prince with a saviour complex that huge would be, especially one that is so taken with someone who literally cannot speak.

What I also liked is how she shows how women can kind of be turned against each other. There are rivalries between her sisters that obscure any sort of familal love.

I really loved it and I think about it often!

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