Near the island of Black Conch, a fisherman sings to himself while waiting for a catch. But David attracts a sea-dweller that he never expected – Aycayia, an innocent young woman cursed by jealous wives to live as a mermaid.
When American tourists capture Aycayia, David rescues her and vows to win her trust. Slowly, painfully, she transforms into a woman again. Yet as their love grows, they discover that the world around them is changing – and they cannot escape the curse for ever . . .
I love short novels that are able to pack a punch, cover much thematic ground and written in beautiful prose. This novel is a perfect example for this mix of elements. It explores feminism, female jealousy, men’s greed and the colonialism’s lingering inequality. It is set in 1976 in a fictional Caribbean Island called Black Conch (village St. Constance) and offers an imaginative fantasy built on elements of the mythology and history of the Caribbean.
The narrative switches from diary entries of David, a local fisherman, and memories of Aycayia, the mermaid. They meet while he is out trying to catch fish attracting her attention by singing while he waits.
When two men catch her and plan to sell her as a unique curiosity. David is the one who rescues her and takes her into his home. The description of her transitioning from mermaid to human are absolutely gripping and fascinating.
‘Her hair was the worst part, a mess of fire and ropes of this and that. Jellyfish had come up with her in clusters of long blue veins. Sea moss trailed from her shoulders like slithers of beard. Barnacles speckled the swell of her hips. Her torso was sturdy and muscular, finely scaled over, as if she wore a tunic of sharkskin. She was crawling with sea lice.’
Through Aycayia’s passages in the book we are told that she used to live in an indigenous community and was cursed by jealous wives who believed her beauty to be a threat. As she emerges into human form, David is the first to notice her attractive nature and bewitching eyes. They slowly get used to each other and fall in love. Their story and the ensuing friendships with two other outsiders is very moving despite the dark clouds and past grievances building up all around them. But I won’t say more about this enchanting and beautifully crafted story. I highly recommend it!
‘I want to stay my woman self
even here when my people long dead
I want to be here on land again
but deep inside I know there is still some mix up
I am still half and half
half woman and half cursed woman
cursed still in this new place
The sea is a strong pull’
The book in three words: original, compelling and enchanting
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Monique Roffey is an award-winning Trinidadian-born British writer. The Mermaid of Black Conch, her most recent novel, won the Costa Book of the Year, 2020 and was shortlisted for the Goldsmiths Prize, 2020, the Rathbones/Folio Award, 2021 and the Republic of Consciousness Prize, 2021. It was also long listed for the Orwell Prize for Political Fiction and the OCM Bocas Award for Caribbean Literature. She is a Senior Lecturer at The Writing School, at MMU, and a tutor online for The National Writers Centre.