The ocean is unstill

Excerpt from Our Wives Under the Sea by Julia Armfield

Photo by Jeremy Bishop on Unsplash

This is an excerpt from the book Our Wives Under the Sea by Julia Armfield.

The deep sea is a haunted house: a place in which things that ought not to exist move about in the darkness. Unstill is the word Leah uses, tilting her head to the side as if in answer to some sound, though the evening is quiet—dry hum of the road outside the window and little to draw the ear besides.

“The ocean is unstill,” she says, “farther down than you think. All the way to the bottom, things move.” She seldom talks this much or this fluently, legs crossed and gaze toward the window, the familiar slant of her expression, all her features slipping gently to the left. I’m aware, by now, that this kind of talk isn’t really meant for me, but is simply a conversation she can’t help having, the result of questions asked in some closed-off part of her head. “What you have to understand,” she says, “is that things can thrive in unimaginable conditions. All they need is the right sort of skin.”

We are sitting on the sofa, the way we have taken to doing in the evenings since she returned last month. In the old days, we used to sit on the rug, elbows up on the coffee table like teenagers, eating dinner with the television on. These days she rarely eats dinner, so I prefer to eat mine standing up in the kitchen to save on mess. Sometimes, she will watch me eat and when she does this I chew everything to a paste and stick my tongue out until she stops looking. Most nights, we don’t talk—silence like a spine through the new shape our relationship has taken. Most nights, after eating, we sit together on the sofa until midnight, then I tell her I’m going to bed.

When she talks, she always talks about the ocean, folds her hands together and speaks as if declaiming to an audience quite separate from me. “There are no empty places,” she says, and I imagine her glancing at cue cards, clicking through slides. “However deep you go,” she says, “however far down, you’ll find something there.”

I used to think there was such a thing as emptiness, that there were places in the world one could go and be alone. This, I think, is still true, but the error in my reasoning was to assume that alone was somewhere you could go, rather than somewhere you had to be left.

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Our Wives Under the Sea – Summary

Here is the book summary:

Miri thinks she has got her wife back, when Leah finally returns after a deep-sea mission that ended in catastrophe. It soon becomes clear, though, that Leah is not the same. Whatever happened in that vessel, whatever it was they were supposed to be studying before they were stranded on the ocean floor, Leah has brought part of it back with her, onto dry land and into their home.

Moving through something that only resembles normal life, Miri comes to realize that the life that they had before might be gone. Though Leah is still there, Miri can feel the woman she loves slipping from her grasp.

Our Wives Under The Sea is the debut novel from Julia Armfield, the critically acclaimed author of Salt Slow. It’s a story of falling in love, loss, grief, and what life there is in the deep deep sea.

Copyright © 2022 by Julia Armfield.

You can find more details here on Goodreads and on StoryGraph.

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