Publisher: Peepal Tree Press
Publication Date: 2nd April 2020
This book rescued me from a very severe reading slump. Nobody can escape the fact that the world is a very different place at the moment with the dreaded C word. I have found it extremely difficult to concentrate on reading in recent weeks, particularly the last week. I picked up The Mermaid Of Black Conch by Monique Roffey on a whim and boy am I glad I did! I read this book in one day and it has really pulled me out of my reading slump.
It’s 1976 in Saint Constance a Caribbean village on the island of Black Conch. A fisherman named David whilst out at sea one day attracts a strange creature which turns out to be a mermaid. He is very cautious around her and does not want to frighten her away. The sound of his boat lures her back to him day after day and he becomes bewitched by her. However one day two American fishermen who have arrived in Black Conch for an annual fishing competition end up hooking the mermaid and reeling her in after a protracted battle.
The men take the mermaid to shore with dollar signs in their eyes. The locals have heard of tales of Mermen in the waters around Black Conch but never a Mermaid. The local men employed on the American vessel as crew have an uneasy feeling about what bringing a mermaid to shore could mean. Would it be bad luck?…
The Mermaid is brought to shore and strung up beside the more regular catches. When David hears that his mermaid has been captured he manages to cut her down and take her home to his house where he keeps her sequestered away.
Initially David tries to keep her alive as if she were still in the sea. Keeping her in the bath with salt water, trying to tempt her with food. However it quickly becomes apparent that the mermaid is changing……changing into a real woman.
What we learn from her metamorphosis is that she was once a human woman named Aycayia who was cursed by local women to live a long and lonely life at sea. Local women who were jealous of her hold over their menfolk.
David learns more and more about Aycayia and they tentatively learn to communicate. They each become entranced by the other but David must fight to keep Aycayia’s identity hidden whilst Aycayia is fighting demons of her own. In between being desperate to become a real woman, experience love and family on land and the lure of the sea, Aycayia learns just how far reaching the curse that was bestowed upon her hundreds of years ago is.
As I said at the start of this review, I absolutely tore through this book. Told from the viewpoint of David via his written journal, and Aycayia via her sometimes limited language threaded through the main narrative, this story sweeps you away.
I initially expected maybe an idealised view of what we all imagine a mermaid to be. Sleek glossy tail, beautiful face and long flowing gorgeous locks…….I was happily surprised to find that Aycayia was anything but:
‘I had to touch her. Her teeth were small and sharp; to put my hand inside her mouth looked dangerous. Then, keeping her eyes direct, slow slow, she opened her mouth. A foul smell floated out. A strong ocean stench of salt and dead fish and all the fruit she was eating. Man, her teeth needed a good brush. Her throat was a strange deep pinky purple. I didn’t want to show her my disgust….’
I really enjoyed the developing relationship between David and Aycayia. Their blooming efforts to communicate, David’s protective nature towards her and Aycayia’s willingness to trust him despite past traumas.
This book almost feels like it vibrates with life in your hands. The setting, the characters and the imagery are all so vibrant and full of life. It feels colourful (I hope that makes sense!).
Ultimately this is a story of love against adversity. A tale of ancient legends quite literally dragged into the present day. A study of how women sometimes don’t have agency over their own bodies and the assumption of men that women are possessions. It’s also a tale of female jealousies and the far reaching implications of this.
Monique Roffey is such an exciting author to me. I loved The Tryst and have also gone on to read her memoir With The Kisses Of His Mouth. He writing is just so evocative and engaging. She lured you in from page one. I’m excited to see what she comes up with next and I would heartily recommend her work. Go check her out!
Thank you as always to the publisher for my review copy.
See you all soon.
Amanda – Bookish Chat xxx