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 curst for ever…
Thank you firstly to Sarah Harwood for sending me a finished copy of this book earlier this year. What a magical novel The Mermaid of Black Conch is, part mythical, part love story I flew through this book in 24 hours finding myself absorbed in the story, the writing and the characters!
A work of fiction, Aycayia was a beautiful girl, men were mesmerised by her and this resulted in her being exiled and ultimately turned into a mermaid, living a lonely life in the sea. Mermaids – portrayed often as magical, mystical creatures, loved by young girls – I recall seeing a ‘mermaid’ in an aquarium, beautiful long hair waving at hoards of bewitched children. And somehow I had got caught up in this fantasy, but The Mermaid of Black Conch tells a different story, the wrath of jealous women result in a curse on Aycayia, a huge scaly tail replacing her lower body, her sexual organs enrobed forever, her femaleness reduced, while she remains a thing of beauty.
Her capture is horrendous, part human, part fish she is treated cruelly by her male captors. Rescued by David the story unfolds beautifully as he nurtures her toward a human life, but the curse is strong and their love doomed. So much is packed into the 244 pages of this book. The story is magnificent, set in a small fishing village on a Caribbean island in the 1970s, the community is tight although the remnants of colonialism are evident and although the white female landowner has given up much of the land and charges minimal rent, the scars remain. The roles of men and women are divided and indeed what it means to be female is a central theme of this book, in terms of the fate of Aycayia, but also the jealousy of women and the attribution of blame – for men’s poor behaviour.
This book truly had me gripped, the writing was sublime, the voice of Aycayia was literally poetic, David kept a journal of his time with Aycayia and this was a strong portrayal of his love for her. The majority of the story was told in the third person narrative but the combination of this and the first person voices of the two main protagonists was very effective. A highly original book with excellent characterisation and a tremendous plot make this a book I am highly recommending. A book about a mermaid yes, but this is no fairy story, sad and moving in parts, momentarily harrowing but overall an excellent, thought provoking read.
About the Author
Monique Roffey was born in Port of Spain, Trinidad. She is the author of six novels and a memoir. The Mermaid of Black Conch won the Costa Book of the Year and the Costa Novel Award 2020. Monique Roffey is a senior lecturer at the Manchester Writing School at Manchester Metropolitan University and a tutor for the National Writers Centre.