Monday 12 November 2012

Mermaid by Carolyn Turgeon

Mermaid is a retelling of Hans Christian Andersen's fairy tale, The Little Mermaid (you can read the original here).  Lenia is the youngest sister of five mermaid princesses who are granted just one day to travel to the surface and observe what the world is like for humans.  On her eighteenth birthday, she takes her opportunity but gets caught up in a ferocious storm and can't resist rescuing the Prince of the Southern Kingdom.  Taking him to the beach, she leaves him in the care of Princess Margrethe, daughter of the war-hungry King of the Northern Kingdom.  Unable to put him from her mind and drawn to ideas of a human soul, Lenia sacrifices her tail and tongue in order to become a human, enduring agonising pain.  But is her sacrifice worth it?

Mermaid is on the whole a faithful retelling of the original fairy tale, so consequently much darker than the Disney version!  The main difference is that the role of the 'other woman', Princess Margrethe, is greatly expanded, to the extent that the chapters alternate between Margrethe and Lenia's points of view.  However, Margarethe feels much more like a modern invention than Lenia, which can be a bit jarring. Despite these differences, Turgeon is successful at capturing the gothic, slightly creepy, slightly magical atmosphere of the original.  The world she creates is one where it seems natural that mermaids exist and souls float to the heavens.  There's a dark undercurrent of pain and suffering throughout the whole story which fits with Andersen too.

As this is a fairy tale, it's acceptable that the characters do things that you would never do in real life.  There's a lot of love at first sight and much sacrifice for someone who doesn't seem worth it (I'm looking at you, Prince!).  If this was a normal story, I'd have a big problem with Lenia's actions and how easily she gave up everything she had ever known, but I didn't mind it in the context of the original story.  In fact, the only thing I really had an issue with was the ending; I felt as though it was too happy.  The last sections seem to build up to a dark, depressing end but then there's a last minute reprieve and it felt like a cop-out.  Andersen never shied away from unhappy endings, so it's a shame that Turgeon felt the need to.

On the whole, Mermaid was a fun read which broke up my usual reading pattern.  It's not going to win any prizes and it's not going to set your world on fire, but it's a lovely way to pass a Sunday afternoon.  Fans of fairy tales or fairy tale re-tellings will especially appreciate this book.

Source: Library
First Published: 2011
Score: 3 out of 5


  1. Hrm...I'm so torn. I love the Andersen fairy tale (so deliciously dark) but I do hate insta-love. Hrm, hrm, hrm. Also, too bad about the HEA ending too!

  2. Beautiful cover. Sounds like an enjoyable read that has captured the darker side of the original.

  3. I love retellings but am also not into insta-love!!! I think I will still try this book.

  4. Hmm.. I saw this on your goodreads list the other day and was very interested to see what you had to say. I almost expected it to be have a depressing ending but surprised to see that it kind of went both ways. Don't know if I'll attempt in the near future but glad to see your opinion. Sad it wasn't better.

  5. Haha, I think I like books that make for easy Sundays! But I am not too sure if I would pick this one up even though I like dark undercurrents

  6. I love a good escape read, especially ones with happy endings!

  7. I'd be tempted by this if I'd run out of all my othe retellings. Probably one to keep in the back of my mind.

  8. A very personal story, told in concurrent views, where the characters are juxtaposed but in search of something just out of reach. An amazing compliment to classic tales from a beautiful story teller.
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