Tuesday, August 28, 2018

The Mermaid

Title:  The Mermaid
Author:  Christina Henry
Publication Information:  Berkley. 2018. 336 pages.
ISBN:  0399584048 / 978-0399584046

Book Source:  I received this book through Penguin First to Read free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "Once there was a fisherman, a lonely man who lived on a cold and rocky coast and was never able to convince any woman to come away and live in that forbidding place with him."

Favorite Quote:  "I don't belong to you ... You thought if I married you that I would, but I don't. I don't belong to any man ... I only belong to myself. But belonging to myself doesn't mean I don't love you or that I don't want to stand beside you."

The book is interesting in its use of historic characters and stories. This books centers on PT Barnum and the Feejee (Fiji) mermaid exhibit in his museum in New York. The exhibit was the torso and head of a monkey sewn onto the back half of a fin. The hoax sold was that this was a mermaid captured around the Fiji Islands in South Pacific. The controversial exhibit was supposedly lost in one of the many fires at the museum.

The author's note to this book acknowledges the story and its inspiration for this book. However, the author clearly states that both the legend of the Fiji mermaid and the character of PT Barnum has been fictionalized and depicted in a way that suits the story the author is trying to tell. It has no relevance to the actual historical rendition.

This book imagines what if the mermaid was real? Amelia is a mermaid, an actual mermaid. A love brings her to a small fishing community. Loss and a new beginning brings her to the world.

The first part of this book reads like a magical fairy tale. A fisherman captures a mermaid but lets her go. The mermaid responds to the loneliness of the fisherman and returns. She takes a human form, and the two for an idyllic bubble with the small community in which the fisherman lives. Even the community comes to accept the mermaid and guard her secret.

Then, things change. With a goal to be adventurous and embrace life, Amelia leaves her quiet home for the hustle and bustle of New York City and beyond. She becomes part of the curiosities exhibited by PT Barnum. This decisions brings Amelia travels and new relationships. It also brings fear and ridicule in a way she could not have imagined. Throughout it brings a conflict between PT Barnum's focus on business and money and Amelia's attempt to protect her own interest. She is pretty savvy for a mermaid who has led a very secluded life.

In this way, the remainder of the book changes from the magical fairy tale into a conversation about human beliefs and actions in the names of those beliefs. "Belief was more dangerous than all the tale-telling in all the pubs of the world. Humans, Amelia knew, would do anything for belief. They would proselytize from the highest mountain for belief. They would collect like-minded people and form mobs for belief. They would kill one another for belief."

In doing so, the book unfortunately loses its magic and brings the reader back to the very human world of money, business deals, religious diatribes, and sadly even violence. The latter part of the book also introduces a new love story which I find to not really developed and not necessary. I have greater appreciation for Amelia finding her own way in the world.

I enjoy the character of Amelia and her perspective of the world. I also enjoy the other female characters in the book. The book touches on the independence in women but just barely. "Women who did what they liked instead of what other people wished were often accused of witchcraft, because only a witch could be so defiant, or so it was thought."

So, an interesting premise, a magical beginning, and a story that for me does not find its way back to that magic.

Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

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