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The Mermaid of Black Conch

Review

The Mermaid of Black Conch

We are all searching to find comfort --- within ourselves, outside of ourselves, with the past, present and future selves we experience. In Monique Roffey’s mesmerizing love story, THE MERMAID OF BLACK CONCH, a woman born of the sea comes on land, falls in love with her rescuer and becomes a woman born of the earth.

As Aycayia comes to understand her new body and the new world in which she is now living, David, the man who found and saved her, must deal with the fact that you can take the woman out of the ocean, but you can’t take the ocean out of the woman. And so a mythical adventure unwinds, wrapping us all in its spell.

"THE MERMAID OF BLACK CONCH is a dramatic and truly contemporary look at an old fish-out-of-water story. It is a revelation, and a very fine and fulfilling read."

The story begins in 1976. As David is fishing for marlin off the coast of Black Conch, he makes a discovery that changes his life. A mermaid by the name of Aycayia appears, a beautiful woman with a very big tail. He visits her many times until the day he must help her escape a boatload of money-mad Americans who think of her only as a big catch. David works hard to earn her trust as Aycayia works hard to accept the vagaries and strangeness of the world on land. She is struggling under a curse that could upend everyone’s lives again as quickly as everything changed upon her arrival. What will keep her from succumbing to the curse? Can love really win the day?

This might sound like a run-of-the-mill, Splash-type story, but I can assure you it is not: “Aycayia sat down on a bench by the lookout on the curve of the road and nibbled on the mango skin. She tugged it down in one neat strip… If she said yes to marry, she could cook in a new way, in an oven. She had already learnt again what heat could do. She knew what fire could do to a potato, a yam, a pumpkin, or even bodi. She could wash the dishes with frothy green liquid…. But in her last life, men could have more than one wife; that was normal…. Would she have to share David one day?”

Between the story of Aycayia assimilating, we get a series of chapters in which David writes in a diary, expressing his deepest thoughts. It is the combination of these two voices --- the mythical storyteller with the mermaid info and the deep-feeling fisherman with the desire to keep this woman of the sea safe as his only true love --- that creates a compelling story that will keep you glued to the page.

This book is about many things: feminism and colonialism, love, possession and jealousy, and a kind of erotic love that threatens to undo every other aspect of the characters’ lives. Aycayia is so strong and caring that we feel as if the magical realism of the novel has taken the genre itself into new and exciting territory. Readers surely will fall in love with the love story that plays like Shakespeare in island patois. David’s voice is so heartbreaking and Aycayia’s thoughts are so modern that their desires may overwhelm you as they do to themselves.

Roffey never allows her work to fall into any clichéd traps about humans and fish. It has a potent sense of magic and reality, and the characters are caught in the conundrums both present as they try to change for each other while revealing what they most want for themselves. This is a very human story told in the guise of a mythical relationship and a search for what is and what can be home to any thinking creature.

THE MERMAID OF BLACK CONCH is a dramatic and truly contemporary look at an old fish-out-of-water story. It is a revelation, and a very fine and fulfilling read.

Reviewed by Jana Siciliano on July 15, 2022

The Mermaid of Black Conch
by Monique Roffey

  • Publication Date: July 12, 2022
  • Genres: Fiction, Magical Realism
  • Hardcover: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Knopf
  • ISBN-10: 0593534204
  • ISBN-13: 9780593534205