on 20 March 2011
`The Seas' is the tale of a young girl as she grows to young woman, with the ongoing possibility of being a mermaid if what her father told her as a young girl is true, in a remote seaside town nobody wants to live in, most have become alcoholics or suicidal, and yet a place that no one seems to be able to escape from. Except that her father did escape in his own way when one day he took a walk straight into the sea and never came back. Most would assume that he was dead yet our narrator, and occasionally her mother, sit and wait on the beach for his return in hope. Living mainly in her head, we follow her obsession with both her father, and the fact she believes she sees him and occasionally finds wet footprints around the house, and her obsession with an older man who is not long back from fighting in Iraq and who has Post Traumatic Stress disorder.
Looking at the book like that you could think that the scope of the book is too big, especially as the novel is a slim one, and somewhat surreal. Yet Samantha Hunt has created a rather magical, if a little melancholic, tale about loss and coming to terms with your own situation especially when it is not one of your choosing. As you read along you begin to realise that you aren't been given the straight forward story from the narrator, for example when people start to melt before her eyes, and so reality and her imagination inform your readers view of her world and just how she is coping with it, which doesn't always make sense initially but soon rings very true. There is also a real fluidity to her voice, and this is of course through the prose, which adds to the books watery and ethereal feel. I'm not sure that makes sense but if you read the book it might... maybe?
What I found rather surprising with this novel and what added incredible element was the story of Jude, the man our narrator obsesses over. Amongst all the named chapters there is `War Among The Mayflies' which is Jude's first hand telling of his time in Iraq and another mini short story of sorts within a story. I found this incredibly shocking and moving all in one. It seemed a very debut novel thing to do and cram a book with all an author's ideas and topics, yet it did feel very much part of the story and added a further dimension and poignancy to a stunningly written book.
`The Seas' may not have a whacking great plot running through it, and certainly not a linear one, yet it certainly has a heck of a lot to say and sometimes no plot is needed in a novel. It's a book filled with emotions which manages to say so much and affect its reader whilst being quite silent and subtle. It's a debut that takes several risks, the characters aren't instantly likeable, the feeling of melancholy throughout (though its not depressing there's very few comic breaks, but then why should there be?) and the sudden strand change of isolated North America to a war torn Iraq, yet all these risks pay off creating a rather brilliant and beautifully bizarre piece of fiction.
on 12 February 2005
"The Seas'" narrator is nineteen, a waif-like girl who, unable to move from adolescence to womanhood, believes herself to be a mermaid. When she was eight years-old, her father walked into the sea, never to be seen again. She and her mother often sit on the beach, near the ocean's edge where his footprints were last seen, watching - waiting for him to return. Wet footprints appear to her in the oddest places, convincing her that he has come back. He had told her that she was a mermaid - a gift from the sea. She believes him, after all these years. She reasons that if her father is alive, then he must be a creature of the sea and that she, his daughter, must be the same. And like the mermaids in Hans Christian Andersen's tale, and Friedrich de La Motte Fouque's "Undine," our lost young protagonist loves a man and longs for him to return her intense affections. Unlike the fairy tales, however, one assumes she is not dependent on this man's love to gain a mortal soul.
Jude, the man in question, is older, nearly twice her age. He returned from the Iraq War "a year and a half after the president declared the war was over." He had already served three years and seven months in the Army, but decided to stay at the front a bit longer. He needed the money. The bleak, Northeastern seaside town where they live has nothing to offer him, nor anyone else really. He doesn't own a fishing boat, which is the only way to make money in the tiny hamlet. Our mermaid is certain that Jude, now a hard drinking, womanizing sailor, is her prince. Jude, however, has problems of his own. Never having fully recovered from the traumas of battle - he was finally evacuated for Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome - he believes the young woman is forbidden to him. She is like a critical war secret he has been prohibited to reveal. "Like if I say your name or if I touch you, I'd get court-martialed, found guilty, and executed."
Ms. Hunt's narrative is sparse and somewhat random in nature, according to her protagonist's apparent whims. It almost reads like a personal journal, with chapter titles for each entry. A literary work, "The Seas" is hauntingly beautiful with lyrical, almost ethereal prose and filled with ocean imagery. An atmosphere of melancholy permeates, with mystical, fantastical elements. The young woman's angst, and the sorrows of her wounded warrior, wrench the heart. There is dark humor here also. "All mermaids do is swim around and kill sailors. Not a great job."
The characters are brilliantly portrayed, including the grandfather who is obsessed with typesetting a dictionary. He gives his granddaughter words and definitions to ponder throughout, and the story is filled with typographical games. He discovers a word in a Russian English dictionary, "razbliuto." He says there is no English equivalent. "The word means, the feelings one retains for someone he once loved," he explains, and challenges his listeners to come up with an English one word meaning. When everyone fails, the old man continues, "It's like the little house love moved out of, maybe a hermit crab moves in and carries the house across the floor of a tidal pool. The lover sees the old love moving and it looks like it's alive again." This is a poignant novel, and sometimes painful. Don't let that put you off. "The Seas" mesmerizes. It is a fabulous tale and is so worth the read. I loved this book!
Samantha Hunt has been twice nominated for a Pushcart Prize and has been published in the anthology Trampoline, McSweeney's, Colorado Review, Jubilat, The Literary Review, The Iowa Review, Western Humanities Review, NewMediaPoets.com, and has appeared on NPR's "This American Life."
on 19 May 2012
The unnamed narrator believes she is a mermaid. She is also in love with war-damaged Jude who holds himself apart from her. According to legend, the mortal who will not marry a mermaid will be killed. She does not want to kill Jude, but words have a way of winning...
The lyrical language of `The Seas' was a blessed relief after the prosaic prose of some of my other recent reads. The rhythm lilts like the sea, and there is some wonderful imagery throughout. Is the narrator really a mermaid or does she just feel the yawning absence of her father? Will her grandfather ever complete his painstakingly typeset dictionary? Will Jude ever succumb to her `charms'? This book is so beautifully written that the answers are almost immaterial, but so long as you are willing to suspend belief, this is a fable to savour. A welcome break from the vapidity of the mainstream.
on 19 September 2011
Beautifully written and haunting tale of a girl growing up in a town, in the 'Far North', which is best known for its phenomenal rate of alcoholics per capita, and who may or may not be a mermaid.
The supernaturally inflected, often dream-like story describes her troubled friendship with a local war veteran (and alcoholic)and their attempts to make sense of their lives and perhaps to find some way out of their situations. More of a novella than a novel, and perhaps more of a modern fairy tale than a novel, The Seas leaves a long-lasting and powerful, if hard to encapsulate, impression on the reader's imagination and own dreams.
Ever since she was a little girl and her father told her she was a mermaid, the unnamed narrator of The Seas has felt different from everyone else in her town. Now, at the age of nineteen there are two main influences on her life: one is her love for Jude, an older man who has recently returned from fighting in Iraq. The other is the lonely, oppressive atmosphere of the town itself - a town so far north 'the highway only goes south' - and the sea that surrounds it.
This is not the type of book I usually choose to read, but sometimes it's good to take a risk and try something a bit different. And The Seas is certainly different! As well as being a strange and unusual novel, it's also a surprisingly short one. In approximately 200 pages, Samantha Hunt manages to cover a number of topics such as the Iraq War, post traumatic stress disorder and mermaid mythology - as well as creating some interesting minor characters, including the narrator's grandfather, a retired typesetter who is busy working on a new dictionary - yet I never felt that the author had tried to pack too much into too few pages, which proves that sometimes a book doesn't have to be long in order to say everything it needs to say.
Although there didn't seem to be much of a plot and I wasn't sure where everything was leading, I enjoyed the first half of the book and was pulled into the narrative by the quality of the beautiful, dreamlike prose, filled with wonderful ocean imagery. It wasn't enough to hold my attention right to the final page, though, and towards the end of the book I started to lose interest. Sadly there were too many things about this book that didn't quite work for me, but overall I thought it was an impressive debut novel.
on 24 June 2011
Don't get me wrong. I enjoyed the book as it was something different and I was intrigued as to how it would be played out. However it was quite slow going and I was never really sure why the main character was so into Jude. I liked lots of the imagery and randomness/quirkiness but it just didn't seem deep enough and I just wasn't left feeling satisfied or desperately seeking someone to tell to read it. So after alternating positives and not so positives for a few sentences there I would say : get it if you need something to read (how I often end up with random things!) and you are happy to read something a little unusual with no huge expectations of grandeur.
I need something else to read now... I got this and the Tigers Wife and need more books (or local library to stock something more current than 1976 releases). Happy reading.
on 1 April 2010
This is a beautiful, bewitching novel that i wanted to start again as soon as I had finished. Hunt's prose is elegant, poetic, and playful with language - the grandfather is composing a dictionary which invites fascinating discussions about words and what they mean.
The heroine's longing and loneliness is sharply drawn, as are the crystal-clear characters - one of my favourite descriptions is of the grandfather asking a favour: "then he keeps his chin tucked and rolls his eyeballs up to me, showing the white undersides, looking more like a slow reptile, a turtle whose shell has been crushed by hooligans. He looks like that so I'll feel sorry for him. It always works."
Despite the mysterious, never-quite-explained fantastical element of the story, it is utterly believable and has to be read to savour the experience.
on 24 March 2014
A strange and haunting short novel, where lines between reality and fantasy are blurred. Compelling, dreamlike prose that pulls you along on the sea-tide that threatens to claim the narrator before her story is told. The writing is bold and original and will stay with me for a long time.
on 7 March 2012
I've read the other reviews and now I'm feeling rather inadequate...maybe I missed something? On my book list I just have - Weird 7/10. None of it sticks in my mind despite reading it not that long ago...maybe just not my cup of tea. Jan Bird
on 22 September 2010
this is a beautiful book written with poise and intelligance. The story contiually flirts with a magical element that is never truly explained but is utterly believable and the use of language, poetry and construction of meaning and words reflects the authors obvious intelligence.
However, i was dissapointed with the end. Too me it felt like Hunt ran out of steam and was unsure how to end her novella and so, like a lot of authors, finished her story with an open end which was a dissapointing to me but maybe thats because i am a person who demands all the answers!
I would, however, deffinately recommend this book as it is wonderfully composed and executed.