Near the island of Black Conch, a fisherman sings to himself while waiting for a catch. But David attracts a sea-dweller that he never expected – Aycayia, an innocent young woman cursed by jealous wives to live as a mermaid.
When American tourists capture Aycayia, David rescues her and vows to win her trust. Slowly, painfully, she transforms into a woman again. Yet as their love grows, they discover that the world around them is changing – and they cannot escape the curse for ever . . .
I devoured this book in one sitting.
And I’m so surprised at how much I truly adored this book. It’s a short read but one that is really enjoyable. I’ve never read anything like this before and I’m so glad I did.
Filled with themes of love, hope, rejection and more, Monique Roffey wrote a romantic story about a fisherman and a mermaid. This story is part prose, diary entries and poetry but it’s beautifully woven together to create a unique plot. It’s a brilliant take on mermaid folklore that I haven’t seen before. And whilst, Monique Roffey has borne a story out of fantasy elements mixed with realism, Caribbean history shines through and adds a new layer to the story.
I adored David and Aycayia’s story. Their love is clearly written to be timeless and one that prevails all the sense of logic and magic. It adds to the magical elements of the story. David clearly adored the mermaid and even their meeting seemed to be almost like a fairytale.
Aycayia’s capture seemed to touch on the exploitation of tourism in the Caribbean and the impact it has on locals. A lot of the Caribbean’s revenue comes from tourism, which Nicole Dennis-Benn details extremely well in ‘Here Comes the Sun’. But I thought it was exceptionally clever how Roffey portrayed how damaging it can be to those native to the islands. She does this by exploring the exploitation of women.
“The sea was the giant woman of the plant, fluid and contrary. All the men shuddered as they gazed at her surface…”
Through the fisherman that travelled to the island and their attitude towards Aycayia, I was troubled by their desire to receive monetary value from her. Even the sexual assault, Aycayia receives is a direct indication of exploitation. Their disregard to preserve and protect that what is native to the island, suggests a lack of respect.
However, this dates back to the colonialisation of the Caribbean by the Spanish. Aycayia’s own history details the genocide of the Caribbean indigenous people where men came over to the islands and brought with them diseases and much more. The fishermen seem to be almost like a metaphor for this part of history. In which, the Spanish had no regard for the indigenous culture but seemed desperate to colonise the islands for what they could bring back to their country.
“You men born from us, and yet you assume power. Is we who give you that power…”
Aycayia’s history also looks into strong themes of jealousy. The backstory surrounding how she came to be a mermaid is heart-breaking. She truly felt like her womanhood and her looks were something to be ashamed of. Monique Roffey portrays her innocence so well and you can’t help but feel angry about her situation…the fact she’s been cursed to be alone. It emphasises just how tormenting jealousy can be but also how soul-destroying it is. The jealousy also ties in with the magical realism in this book and the unnaturalness of certain events that happen in the book reiterates the evil curse.
“Later I saw that change came as change always comes, from a chain of events with a long history, too long to see from back to front, till it come…”
I loved the friendship she cultivated with Reggie, a deaf 10-year old boy and his mother, Miss Rain. Both of them also feel disconnected from the general community because of differences. Nevertheless, there’s a sense of ‘found family’ and kinmanship between them as they find friendship in their differences. It’s a beautiful sentiment and probably one of my favourite things about this novel.
There’s so much to love about this book. I completely understand why it won Costa Book of the Year 2020. Monique Roffey wrote such a beautiful novel.
I recommend it if you’re looking for a short but compelling read set in the Caribbean.
Looking for more Caribbean reads? Check out my blog post: