This is going to be a short review, for a short book – but an excellent one !
The Deep is a novella (less than 200 pages) written by Rivers Solomon, and published in 2019. It’s shelved in adult science-fiction and fantasy on Goodreads, but I didn’t know anything about the plot when I borrowed it from the library : I just saw the cover, thought it looked nice, and decided to give it a chance. This was completely different from anything else I’ve read this year so far, and I definitely don’t regret it.
Yetu holds the memories for her people—water-dwelling descendants of pregnant African slave women thrown overboard by slave owners—who live idyllic lives in the deep. Their past, too traumatic to be remembered regularly, is forgotten by everyone, save one—the historian. This demanding role has been bestowed on Yetu.
Yetu remembers for everyone, and the memories, painful and wonderful, traumatic and terrible and miraculous, are destroying her. And so, she flees to the surface, escaping the memories, the expectations, and the responsibilities—and discovers a world her people left behind long ago.
And now for the review part :
I can’t use my usual review template for this one, because I usually split them in two parts : the points I liked, the ones I didn’t, and why – but for this book, well… I don’t have anything to put in the “disliked” category. And I really tried.
This novella is very slow-paced, and character-driven – in terms of actual story, over the nearly 200 pages of the book, there isn’t a lot of action. But that’s not a bad thing at all : it allows for more room and character development. And there’s a lot of it.
I felt a lot for the main character, Yetu, whose development throughout the story is spectacular. A critique that’s been made is that her personality feels a bit empty in the beginning, which has been a reason to DNF the novella for some readers, but I personally think that critique is unfounded : when we see Yetu finally free of the burden of her duty to her people, she just doesn’t know who she is anymore.
She’s been the historian for a long time, and it has stripped her of her identity, her own memories and experiences, and replaced it with the collective memories of her people. It makes sense, then, that she would feel “empty” – she has to work to build herself back from the beginning, and to figure out who she is and who she wants to be, apart from what she’s been told she should be all those years. It’s a slow rebuilding of her identity, step by step.
Yetu’s escape and her subsequent journey is extremely touching, and is put into perspective with the story of her people’s origins. The authors use this opportunity to ask the difficult questions : Who are we without the knowledge of our history ? What place should memories have in our lives, in our identity as individuals and as a group ?
The writing itself is beautiful, and makes the sea floor ambience feel cold and heavy, and as terribly vast and beautiful as it actually is. The development of the lore and world-building is excellent, and blends well within the story.
When I finished this book and thought about what to develop in a review, I checked what others were saying on Goodreads and… someone pegged this book as “thinly veiled gender fluidity propaganda”. Which : 1) isn’t true (although there is intersex representation, in the fact that all members of Yetu’s species are described as intersex), and 2) wouldn’t be terribly bad if it was.
I greatly enjoyed this novella. If you’re in the mood for a thought-provoking, slow-paced, character-driven novella about lesbian mermaids (yes!), this is the book for you.