Leah is changed. Months earlier, she left for a routine expedition, only this time her submarine sank to the sea floor. When she finally surfaces and returns home, her wife Miri knows that something is wrong. Barely eating and lost in her thoughts, Leah rotates between rooms in their apartment, running the taps morning and night. As Miri searches for answers, desperate to understand what happened below the water, she must face the possibility that the woman she loves is slipping from her grasp.
I have not stopped dreaming of Our Wives Under the Sea since I finished it ... Julie Armfield’s debut novel is sharp, atmospheric, dryly funny, sad, distinctive. If it doesn’t appear on numerous prize lists, I’ll eat my hat ... There are ecological undertones – one thinks of rising tides, though the climate crisis is not explicitly mentioned ... Indeed, though the writing is relentlessly exacting, Our Wives Under the Sea tends towards the unknowable, which might also be synonymous with death or the uncanny. There is an almost spiritual endlessness to its quest. Like all good novels, it goes deep and then deeper again.
Part bruisingly tender love story, part nerve-clanging submarine thriller ... Armfield drips the supernatural into the quotidian ... The weirdness is kept in check by the humane warmth of Leah and Miri’s relationship ... There is such tenderness in the precision of these observations of long-term love and such eerie estrangement when the uncanny intrudes. Eventually, the two moods fuse at the novel’s heart-slicing, cinematic climax. I’ll be thinking about it for ages — and checking the bathtub for grit.
Julia Armfield’s haunting debut novel deftly weaves a love story into creeping horror. Alternating between Leah’s account of the fateful expedition and Miri’s of its aftermath, Armfield sets two timelines hurtling towards each other as the text approaches its central question: what happened down there? ... For all its magic realism, Armfield’s debut sticks closer to what life is made of than most, mapping the grim monotony of existence, the undignified and the humdrum, as much as it does the mythical side of Leah’s story ... Exhausting and exhilarating by turns, Our Wives Under the Sea is a quiet triumph, but beware – this unsettling, saltwater-soaked story seeps deeper than you think.