Time taken to read: 13 days, (although more likely 4/5 days with a gap in the middle),
Rating: 4 stars
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 that forbidding place with him.
The Mermaid is a fictionalised take on P.T. Barnum and the Fiji/Feejee Mermaid that he displayed in his American Museum. In Christina Henry’s novel Barnum does manage to stumble across a real mermaid – Amelia, who came to land when she fell in love with a fisherman. She hopes to earn some money, to travel the new human world she is discovering. Barnum wants her to make him wealthier than he ever imagined and Levi, his close friend, wants to prevent another scandal.
It is worth noting, despite the consistent aesthetic across the Alice, Lost Boy and The Mermaid book covers, this novel is not a horror fairy telling story. Although I would argue there are a number of dark elements are raised in relation to women’s rights historically, greed and the human fascination with things we cannot explain.
The story is told from the point of view of Amelia, a mermaid who prior to the start of the story had only known life under the sea. This otherworldliness allowed a more modern voice to present the story and speak relatable truths despite the historic setting. Although completely coincidental, I am really pleased this version of P.T. Barnum has been presented to the world after the kind, charming version portrayed in the Greatest Showman, and it seems clear that this more selfish version of the showman is based in fact.
What I feel works well for this story is that at its core, it is quite a simple plot, nothing too surprising or unexpected happened. But that allows the main characters to be thoroughly explored and their motivations, beliefs and interests are challenged and developed over the novel.
This is definitely the book I would recommend to those interested in reading a Christina Henry novel, but not sure about the dark worlds imagined in Alice or Lost Boy (one of my personal favourite novels). I personally didn’t give it top marks because there were a few slower moments throughout the book and because ultimately I finished the novel feeling as though I had just been waiting for one more thing to happen – although I am not sure what I would have wanted to add.
TLDR: P.T. Barnum attempts to get rich off exhibiting a mermaid, only to find the girl he has found is the real thing and far more head strong than he anticipated. Not as dark as Henry’s previous works but still as character driven.