Let's Talk About Books!!

This page is going to be full of reviews of books that I've read recently. There will be good reviews, bad ones, neutral ones, etc. I may misunderstand the point of a book sometimes. Chances are that books I enjoy less will have longer reviews, just because there's more for me unpick about them, and I don't know how analyse 'good' writing, so I'll have less to say about books I like less. I'm new to writing reviews, and most of my thoughts about books stay in my head, so if it's kind of clunky then please bear with me - I'll probably get better as I go on. You can click on the titles to expand the full review.

Our Wives Under the Sea is a novel written by Julia Armfield, telling a story of a married couple and how they cope with the aftermath of a traumatic event. Leah, a marine biologist, goes on an expedition to the deep sea, and when she returns after many months, Miri notices that she isn’t the same person as before. The novel is told from a split perspective between the couple, Miri and Leah. Miri’s point of view follows her reaction to the change in Leah’s physical and mental condition. Leah’s is told through her journal entries during her expedition. The novel is split into five parts, all titled after the zones of the sea: sunlight, twilight, midnight, abyssal, and hadal. It also has various sea facts interspersed throughout. The novel deals with themes of grief, and also has a plotline of body horror throughout.

Miri’s point of view largely focuses on her reaction to the change in Leah and is told through both flashbacks and Miri’s view of the present. I would say that the flashbacks allow the reader to empathise with Miri, as we are also shown whom Leah used to be. The stark contrast between the lively Leah of the past and the numb Leah of the present allows us to understand Miri’s frustrations. The book also has moments of levity, for example when Miri goes to a roleplaying message board for wives of astronauts who are either missing or came back wrong in the hopes of finding a community, which I think made Miri seem more human too. The story is more character than plot-focussed, which also forms one of my main issues with the story.

While I understand that Our Wives Under the Sea centres around Miri’s emotions and her grief, leading to a few unrealistic scenarios (e.g. Miri not taking Leah to a doctor despite her physical changes), I feel like there was a strangely rapid progression in the plot in the final parts. I won’t get into the details, but it felt a bit out of place to me, especially since the rest of the book has a much slower pace. The ending was a bit confusing and underwhelming, although it could be seen as a metaphor for letting go. I think that an issue with lots of books nowadays is that the author is often an amazing writer, but their plot can't do the writing justice at all. Or the writing and the plot are both incredibly interesting and well-done and then the ending is equally underwhelming. I enjoyed the first half of this book, but I felt that the ending was unfulfilling and didn’t do justice to the build-up it had. Furthermore, even though a large part of this novel is advertised as body horror, it doesn’t feel too horrific. There’s little gore, and while I understand this isn’t the criteria for body horror, I wasn’t scared or disturbed by most of the things happening to Leah (until a moment which I think you could probably guess if you’ve already read the book). However, I do understand that different people have different thresholds for fear, I just feel like it could have been taken further.

My final gripe with the novel is also part of the reason why it was bumped down from 4.5 stars to 3.5. After I read this book, I decided to read Salt Slow (Julia Armfield’s collection of short stories) and quickly realised that Our Wives Under the Sea is essentially a fusion of the last two stories (‘Cassandra After’ and ‘Salt Slow’). This isn’t really an issue in itself, I just feel like the concepts are so similar that it should’ve been taken even further in this book.

To conclude, although I felt that Our Wives Under the Sea was well-written and a thoughtful exploration of grief, some parts of the novel could have been taken further, such as the body horror. Moreover, I felt that the plot progressed slightly unnaturally toward the end, however, I understand that this book is character-based, not plot-based. It's definitely important to note that I like this book a lot, as it has a beautiful writing style and amazing understanding of emotions after loss. The only reason that this review is so negative is that there a many small things which I wasn't a fan of in this book in comparison to less bigger things which I liked, so I naturally had more negative things to discuss. I would definitely recommend this book to others, just remember that the central focus is the character's emotions, not the plot when you first start reading.

First review!

CW: OCD, ritualistic behaviours, physical abuse, anorexia

This book contains very sensitive subjects, and may be triggering for some people. I’m going to go into detail about some of these aspects, mainly due to the portrayal so read at your own discretion. In addition, I don’t have OCD, so I can’t provide much of a judgement on that front. My thoughts about its portrayal are largely from other reviews.

Kissing Doorknobs features Tara Sullivan, an 11-year-old girl whose life was ‘pretty much within the bounds of ordinary’, though she was a bit of a worrier, and often worried about the safety of her families, to the point that fire drills in schools would scare her when she was 5 as there was a possibility of it being real in the future. However, this changed when she heard the phrase ‘Step on a crack, break your mother’s back’. Suddenly, she couldn’t look away from the cracks on the pavement, and she had to count them. Tara would count them everyday on the way to school, and if someone interrupted her, she’d have to start from the beginning. She has to structure her day around this, and she ends up distancing herself from her friends. This book is about Tara’s struggle with OCD and the impact it has on her family and friends as she struggles to get a diagnosis. It is based on the author’s own struggle with OCD.

Portrayal of OCD:

First of all, the depiction of OCD is good (from what I’ve read in other reviews), and the portrayal of how it changes the way others perceive is really interesting too. Also, I’m not entirely sure which year this is set in specifically, but the book was released in 1998. Tara’s journey in desperately trying to find a diagnosis is portrayed really well since OCD was actually relatively new when the book was published, so most psychiatrists probably didn’t know how to recognise it. Throughout the book, she’s diagnosed with ‘insecurities’, ADD, and even anorexia due to her behaviours with food. It isn’t until a family friend leads them to a doctor who has more experience of treating OCD that she gets diagnosed. I’ll reiterate that I don’t have any experience with OCD, so a lot of this is from other reviews I’ve read.

Tara’s friends:


TW: anorexia

I don't think Kristin's story is portrayed well. Kristin is anorexic, and from the start she’s constantly worrying about her weight. When she finally gets hospitalised, a model agency signs her when she’s in her hospital room. Keesha refuses to talk to her after this and at the very end Kristin is the only one of the girls who hasn’t reunited with them. Instead she’s on the covers of big magazines like Glamour, and the exact quote from the book is ‘I’m proud of that too, despite the sacrifices she’s making that I don’t agree with’. I don’t like the way that her anorexia is being portrayed like a choice. I don’t like the way that it’s being portrayed as a ‘sacrifice’, which has connotations that aren’t positive per se, but it makes it seem that to achieve this level of success, you need to be anorexic. While this may be a sort of commentary of society, it falls flat due to the lack of depth that Kristin has. Not to mention that she’s borderline shamed by Keesha about her issues with her weight. Overall, I don’t think Kristin’s struggle with anorexia added anything to this book. While it’s an important topic, it felt out-of-place, and somehow there’s simultaneously too much and too little information about her.


Like I said before, Keesha doesn't seem to be understanding of Kristin’s issues. Moreover, as the novel progresses, Tara stops walking to school with her friends (due to her need to count the cracks), and while Keesha is understanding at first, she seems like more of a bully after she sees Tara becoming close with another girl called Donna (who becomes a bigger character later). It makes sense for Keesha to feel betrayed though, since in her eyes it must have seemed that Tara was trying to avoid her specifically, but it just comes across as her being unwilling to understand what Tara is going through. This issue is similar with pretty much all the characters in the novel, which is probably intentional. No one seems to realise that Tara doesn’t want to count the cracks in the road, she needs to. Keesha is also the only black character in the novel, and she speaks differently to the others in the novel. Ordinarily, this would be fine, but she is the only person who speaks this way, and the whole cast lives in a small town in Chicago. Personally, as someone whose parents aren’t from the UK, I have a very British accent, because I was raised in a town in Surrey. I don’t have a stereotypical Pakistani accent. I don’t know if accents work differently in the USA, but that’s how I interpreted this bit in the book. If I were in this novel, I have a feeling that I would be speaking in broken English all the way through.

Tara’s Mother:

TW: physical abuse

Tara has unconditional love for her mother. She is constantly worried about her, and when her mum swears, she prays for her. This makes her mum incredibly angry. There was one scene in the book where her mum swears repeatedly out of exasperation and frustration while Tara continually prays for her soul. This eventually escalates into physical abuse, and Tara’s mum would slap her any time she performed any ritualistic behaviours, because she thinks that Tara enjoys doing them. Tara never views her mother as abusive, and this is stated in the book. I wish this book established that what Tara’s mother was doing is horrible and disgusting, and I’m surprised that it didn’t. After giving such an informative depiction of OCD, I would have thought that it dealt with these subjects more tactfully. Tara’s mother is almost depicted as a victim, and while this book does give a portrayal of the impact undiagnosed mental illness has on the whole family, it just doesn’t deal with the abuse well at all, perhaps because Tara is an unreliable narrator.

In conclusion, Kissing Doorknobs is an interesting book which does give an accurate portrayal of OCD. However, all the characters outside of Tara’s family lack a lot of depth, and the abuse that Tara goes through isn’t dealt with well at all. For this review, I definitely missed a lot of things out, this was mainly just full of things that stood out to me and that I remembered most clearly.