Unique in style this gentle and thought provoking book is clear sighted in the way in which it examines themes of love and loss.
This is a book like no other that I have read. Written with a lyrical style that captures this love story with such honesty and yet lack of sentimentality, The Mermaid of Black Conch does take time to settle and get used to – but once you immerse yourself in the story it has much to offer.
Having won the 2020 Costa Book prize, The Mermaid of Black Conch follows the story of David a fisherman who lives in a small Caribbean village falls in love with a mysterious mermaid by the name of Aycayia who is captured by American tourists and then rescued by David. What follows is a story filled with jealousy, love, friendship and exploration of what it means to love but not to possess.
Flitting between straight forward narrative,the perspectives of Aycayia and David as well as snippets of the inner monologues of other characters, Roffey has carefully constructed a fascinating love story that focuses on the build up of trust between the mermaid and David – particularly as she adapts to her transformation from mermaid to woman. The way in which the story unfolds is slowly but majestically done – filled with vivid imagery that really captures the attention and the imagination of the reader.
But it is the way in which she deals with topics such as love, jealousy, possessiveness and male aggression in a frank and honest way that makes this book such a distinctive read. The themes of dominance and possession are particularly highlighted through the American tourists who initially capture Aycayia who they aggressively treat in action and in thought is particularly chilling to read about – but counterbalanced by the trust and affection that David has for her. It is a fairytale in some respects but written and approached from a contemporary attitude.
Each of the characters also have a distinct role to play in the story – with Miss Rain and her deaf son Reggie in particular taking Aycayia under their wings to teach her how to talk and give her some independence, while dealing with their own sense of loss at the absence of Reggie’s father. All of the characters and their lives are interwoven beautifully into this unique story to form a rich portrait of life (with all its flaws and aggressive elements) on the island of St. Constance.
The Mermaid of Black Conch is distinctive and powerful in its own way but takes time to really become an absorbing read. It is still worth a read for those who are looking for something unique to anything else that is being published at the moment.
By Emma Clarendon
The Mermaid of Black Conch is available to buy now.