Friday, March 4, 2011

Mermaid: A Twist on the Classic Tale by Carolyn Turgeon

Summary (courtesy of GoodReads):   The story of two very different women, one mortal, one mermaid, and the clash between worlds best kept apart... It is a cold day at the end of the world when a young woman, a princess in hiding, looks out across a Northern sea and sees something she could not have seen. It can't be. It looks like a mermaid's tail. And, as she looks more closely, she sees that the mermaid is dragging a drowning sailor in her arms. Because, only hours before, another princess, the daughter of the sea queen, has decided to risk everything and take a look at the world above the sea: the world of mortals. And there she finds a storm, a shipwreck, a sailor, and sets in train events which will change both women's worlds forever.

And here's what I thought:   I was already familiar with one of this author's books, Rain Village (which I love), so I had been eagerly anticipating this book.   Admittedly, I'm also a fan of mermaids (not like, a crazy, entire house decorated with them kind of way, but in a "aren't they cool" way).     If you're already familiar with the fairy tale about the mermaid who wants to be human, then you're in for a treat here.   In this book, Turgeon gives us not only the mermaid's story, but also the story of a human girl who is drawn to the sea.  Both of them hunger for a young man, (which is interesting, considering neither of them know much about him), and this draws them together at first, and then causes upheaval later in the story. 

We first meet Margrethe, the mortal princess, when she is staying at a convent (for her own protection, according to her father).  Slipping out of the convent, she is staring out to sea when she sees a mermaid's tail.   Transfixed, she watches as the mermaid brings a man (Christopher) to the shore -- and then feels compelled to go down, herself, to rescue the man.   As it turns out, he is from the South, an enemy of her father's kingdom, and while Margrethe is drawn to him (because he's handsome.... and mysterious....), he's completely off-limits.   Does that stop her? Um.... no.   More on that in a moment.

Lenia, the mermaid, is also a king's daughter, although of a kingdom under the sea.  She is the youngest daughter, so she is surrounded by her sisters, who don't understand her fascination with the mortal world.    Lenia has apparently always been curious about mortals, and while she knows that it's forbidden to interact with humans (except on your 18th birthday, just once), she can't stop herself.    What I found interesting was her detachment when she observed certain things; It's obvious that the human world is completely foreign to her.  For example, she is present during a shipwreck, and observes men drowning.  She knows that humans cannot survive under water, but it isn't until she watches the first one struggle for breath that it really hits home for her: "It struck her, what she knew already: men could not survive under the surface of the water." (p. 13).   She has ample opportunity to observe people up close, when she makes the sacrifice and stays at the castle, among Christopher's family and court.  

What I found really cool about Lenia is that not only do we get to experience the world of the sea through her character, but we also experience the mortal world through her.  She is completely unused to wearing clothes, for instance, or eating cooked food --- all of these things we take for granted, she is experiencing for the first time, and it's a really interesting to read a story this way.

So is this a love story?  If so, between which characters?   You could say it's about Lenia's love for Christopher and the sacrifices she makes for him.  You could say it's about Margrethe's love for Christopher and the sacrifices she makes, as well, for the two kingdoms to be at peace.  Or, you could say it's a love story between Lenia and Margrethe, two similar but different women, who are drawn to each other, and set at odds because of Christopher.  They each make sacrifices for each other, and it is the relationship between them that really drives the story.  They are drawn to each other, and then set against each other when Lenia falls in love with Christopher .... and Margethe shows up to claim him as her own.  

Turgeon's writing is so beautiful --- when I finished this book, I wanted to start it all over again, savoring it this time through (instead of just devouring it like I did).  I did the nice thing, however, and brough it back to the library so the next person on the list wouldn't have to wait for it.  When I would read the descriptions of Lenia, and the world under the water, I was completely transfixed.   And I was captured by the story, as well, about how love can drive us to sacrifice things that don't initially seem that significant, but which we realize later are essential to who we are.   Wonderful, wonderful book!!!   Makes me want to track down Carolyn Turgeon's address and send her a gift, just for writing this!!

First sentences:  It was a gloomy, overcast day, like all days were, when the princess first saw them.  The two of them, who would change her life.  there was nothing to herald their appearance, no collection of birds or arrangement of tea leaves to mark their arrival."

Thoughts on the cover:  So beautiful, with the light playing off the mermaid's hair and tail -- very eye-catching! 


BookQuoter said...

Oh my, this book sounds awesome. I have yet to read a novel about a mermaid. I will have to check this out! Thanks.

Dazzling Mage said...

Wow, it sounds amazing. And your review is wonderfully written too. I've never read anything by Turgeon, but I'm definitely going to now.

Carol @ There's Always Thyme to Cook said...

This book sounds so good, I'll pass your review on to my book club when we have our meeting next week! Wonderful review!

vvb32 reads said...

oh, i'm sold. i want to read this one!

Tales of Whimsy said...

O O O I want this book! Great review. I'm obsessed with sea creature tales.

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