I have a problem – SO many books and SO little time to read them. At the moment I have about 50 comic books and graphic novels, about the same number of fiction and non-fiction books, and about seven years of Vanity Fair magazines stacked in thigh-high piles beside my bed. I yearn for the time I had during my primary and high school days where I would consume up to three books a day at breakfast, on the bus, hidden behind textbooks during class, during lunchtimes in the library and beyond. Now I have about 15 minutes each night before I go to sleep. So it took a few months for me to read the highly anticipated Mermaid by US author Carolyn Turgeon, which was released in April 2011. Having said that, once I got started, I couldn't stop.
Mermaid is a retelling of the famous Hans Christian Andersen tragic fairy tale – The Little Mermaid – but with a difference. It is told from two points of view— the mermaid Lenia and landlubber Margreth, who are both princesses in their respective realms. Lenia is cold-skinned, born from eggs and has a heart full of love and longing but no soul. Margreth is human, as we know humans to be. She is also intelligent and politically astute in a world where women are traditionally passive. They are both rule-breakers and risk-takers, driven by love, for it is indeed love that inspires their courage and alters the course of their lives. Their bond but also their potential undoing is their love for the prince of a rival kingdom, whom Lenia saves from drowning but who Margreth connects to on land in a case of mistaken identity.
Mermaid is a beautifully told story – delicate, sensuous and occasionally horrific when we find out the torturous lengths Lenia goes through to win her human love when she sacrifices her tongue and her tail. The storm shipwreck scene is particularly evocative, as we feel what it would be like to drown in terror and in pain in a turbulent and seemingly bottomless dark ocean where human corpses become set decorations for the mermaid kingdom. What I also liked was the portrayal of the sad and wise sea-witch who reluctantly helps Lenia. If there were ever to be a sequel, I would hope Carolyn Turgeon would explore her origins and her back story.
This is a moving story, exquisitely told, and highly recommended.