I was thrilled to have the opportunity recently to review Monique Roffey’s latest novel, The Mermaid of Black Conch. It was a book that had been on my radar for a little while, having read Roffey’s work previously, and of course it’s a novel that has continued to capture the hearts of many readers, as well as being named as the Costa Book of the Year for 2020. And on 10th June, it was released in a beautiful new paperback edition which I was very excited to read…
I have always been drawn to stories that are based upon myths and folklore, which transport the reader to a different place, or different worlds entirely. This is something that Roffey has achieved through The Mermaid of Black Conch, in which we meet Aycayia, a young woman who, hundreds of years ago, was cursed to live as a mermaid by jealous wives intimidated by her beauty. Aycayia finds herself drawn to the island of Black Conch, captivated by the singing of David Baptiste, a fisherman who sings to himself as he awaits his catch, and naturally cannot quite believe the sea dweller that pays him a visit. From the start I was immersed into this world and the relationship between David and Aycayia. However, this world is not an easy one to navigate, and this is far from a Disney like portrayal of a mermaid falling in love and dreaming of life on land. David is forced to protect Aycayia when she finds herself in the wrong hands, and even when she does find herself safely in the care of the man she grows to trust, her transformation back into a woman is a slow and painful one, as we see her adapt to life in this new environment, and all the pain and pleasure that involves.
This is a bittersweet love story, but one that is an enjoyable read. It is beautifully written and rich in detail, with Roffey creating a vivid image of this world in which there are mysterious and mythical goings on, whilst remaining rooted in reality. I really liked the structure of this book, events take place on the island in the 1970’s, but throughout the novel we also see examples of Aycayia’s poetry, along with David’s diary entries written some forty years later as he reflects back on events. This adds some interesting depth to the characters and the narrative whilst giving them an authentic voice. I enjoyed seeing how the relationship developed between David and Aycayia as their love develops in a changing world, but there is a sense of unease as it is apparent that everything is not as it seems, and it is not something they can run from forever. It is a story steeped in magic and folklore, which explores many themes including colonialism and feminism, love and loss and friendship.
The Mermaid of Black Conch is a wonderful piece of storytelling in which the author has created this vivid world in which the lives of these characters become intertwined. I would be certainly interested in discovering more of Roffey’s work in the future.
The Mermaid of Black Conch was published in paperback on 10th June 2021 by Vintage Books, with thanks to Sarah Harwood and Vintage Books for providing a copy for review.