The Pisces by Melissa Broder
Published by Bloomsbury, 2018
My Rating: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐
No one is as shocked as I am about how much I enjoyed The Pisces. On paper, it’s pretty much the opposite of what I look for in fiction, with words like ‘romantic’, ‘sexy’, ‘hilarious’, and ‘magical realism’ normally major red flags for me. But a longlisting for the Women’s Prize, and some excellent reviews from my bookish friends persuaded me to make an exception. Boy, am I glad I did.
To say this book is about a woman having a lot of sex and falling in love with a merman isn’t exactly untrue, but it certainly doesn’t do it justice either. For all its erotic moments and sharply observational quips, there is in fact a lot going on beneath the surface – pun fully intended. Lucy, our narrator, is a fascinating character. Indeed, the narrative voice is bold, singular, and utterly compelling; Broder having crafted a heroine who is as frustrating as she is endearing. Yes, she can be selfish, shallow, and even cruel, but with much of that stemming from her own insecurities, and manifesting in the kind of black humour that many of us use to get through the day, it feels entirely justified and refreshingly human. As such, it is Lucy herself who keeps the narrative grounded, no matter how surreal it otherwise becomes. Her work on a PhD thesis on Sappho also allows for some wonderful references to Greek mythology, which merely heighten the novel’s fantastical air.
Through her depression, self-doubt, and obsession with finding love, Lucy becomes a conduit through which Broder examines loneliness in the modern era, and the pain of misplaced desire. As she stumbles from one bad decision and toxic relationship to another, we begin to question if love is truly what she craves, and if satisfaction can ever come when it’s the chase that imparts the greatest thrill.
The first half of the book was on track for a five star rating, and the only reason I’ve bumped it down to four is a slight over-indulgence in its sexual content in the latter half. I don’t say this from a prudish standpoint. Sexuality is of course key to the story and its themes, but there’s only so many times you can read the graphic, intimate details of someone’s sex life before you start to become desensitized; any attempt to shock, enthral, or demystify feeling slightly diluted by way of repetition.
Though I had been hesitant about the magical realism elements of the story (it’s a form I often struggle with in a full-length novel), I felt Broder pitched it just right. For me, the genre always works best when we can never be entirely certain how much is real, and how much exists within the psyche of a complex narrator, so I was pleased to see this dynamic play out during the book’s brilliant climax. There was a kind of self-awareness for her own metaphor in general that I found admirable. It made the book all the more fun and engaging to read.
Unapologetic, unsentimental, and wholly original, The Pisces swept me away, and I was left feeling both satisfied and delighted by what is sure to be a memorable reading experience.
You can pick up a copy of The Pisces from Book Depository by clicking here. If you’ve already read it, I’d love to hear your thoughts!