The deep sea is a haunted house…
We’re thrilled to reveal Julia Armfield’s Our Wives Under the Sea, a genre-bending exploration of the depths of love and grief at the heart of a marriage. Preview an excerpt from the novel, publishing June 12, 2022 with Flatiron Books.
By turns elegiac and furious, wry and heartbreaking, Julia Armfield’s Our Wives Under the Sea is a genre-bending exploration of the depths of love and grief at the heart of a marriage.
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.
Julia Armfield is a fiction writer and occasional playwright with a master’s in Victorian art and literature from Royal Holloway University. Her work has been published in The White Review, Lighthouse, Analog Magazine, Neon Magazine and The Stockholm Review. She was commended in the Moth Short Story Prize 2017 and won the White Review Short Story Prize. She is the author of Our Wives Under the Sea and salt slow.
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.
Excerpted from Our Wives Under the Sea, copyright © 2021 by Julia Armfield