The ocean has a rhythm, but it has no heart – Christina Henry.
Like most readers of The Mermaid, I assumed it would be yet another re-telling of The Little Mermaid, something that has happened more and more frequently in the past couple of years, mainly from feminist perspective which I am all here for. This mermaid is not the little mermaid as we know her. She is not the depiction of beauty and art that humans have captured for centuries. She is not half woman, half fish, but a creature of the sea with scales and claws and sharp teeth. She wants adventures. She wants to see the world with her own eyes and see what lies above the surface. There, she sees a lonely man. She falls in love, and there she remains in between two worlds for decades, until a stranger comes knocking on her door.
I deliberately didn’t read the blurb on the back, which would have given me the biggest indicator of who the antagonist is in this adaptation of history and it was a big surprise that it is none other than P.T. Barnum who, as we all know and love, is the Greatest Showman. At first, I didn’t exactly love the idea of P.T. Barnum being a part of this story. In Christina Henry’s version, he is cool and calculating; he doesn’t think of anything other than the dollar signs that whirl around in his brain and flash in his eyes. If he thinks something will sell, no matter how much the cost of humanity is, he will do it. It is a far cry from the Hugh Jackman version, but the more I read, the more I grew invested into the story of the Fee-jee Mermaid and all its wonders.
The mermaid from Fiji is none other than Amelia, the mermaid who wanted to seek out adventures many decades ago. She arrives in New York, the greatest city in the world, hoping she will be lost in a sea of faces. Little does she know that she will become the one face everyone seeks out. She is a wonder of the world. People are equally amazed by her and frightened of her. Amelia has lived in solitude for so long that she does not understand the ways of humans – their rules and their propriety. She will not succumb to the constraints of how men think a woman should act, like that of Charity Barnum, and the rest of New York women who bundle themselves into gloves and bonnets. She is a creature of the sea. She has her own mind, and knows it. So does everybody else, much to their disgust or amusement, depending on the character.
The Mermaid is a slow-paced book with a melodic rhythm in its writing. The beginning chapters under the ocean are beautiful prose, like that of a true fairy tale being told under the blanket of stars. The way Amelia thinks follows this style of poetic prose too, as if tainted with magic. The pace made me fully relax into this book. I didn’t charge ahead with reading unless the story had chaotic moments, which were towards the end of the story, leaving bloodshed and rampages and heartbreak. All of which occurred on land. The rhythm, tone and structure of the novel could be paralleled with the ocean itself: its calm nature and its stormy, brittle waves. It is warm to Amelia, but freezing to us. It gives life and it takes it away, but it is always honest, just like Amelia.
Injecting a piece of fantasy into something that is already noted in history is something that I absolutely love in fiction. It always makes me wonder about the time and what truly happened in the days that the story is referring to. As for this particular case, I wonder about the Feejee Mermaid and I have seen the images of what Barnum tried to sell to the world as the latest magnificent mystery he thought would bring starry eyed customers and more money. I wonder about the people surrounding the story, what were the true thoughts of Charity Barnum, not to mention all of the paying customers. I like to believe, in my dreamer eyes, that something like this book could have happened, and how magical it would have been.
I could go on about other characters in the novel, the love aspect and the conflictions that arise, but I won’t because I think it is more wonderful for the reader to be as surprised as Amelia is with her feelings and her contradicting emotions.
How many books about mermaids have you read recently? Is this another one to add to the list?
Love, Faye xo