Just Sherring

Sherring’s Goodreads: The Mermaid of Black Conch

The Mermaid of Black ConchThe Mermaid of Black Conch by Monique Roffey
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Mermaid of Black Conch by Monique Roffey blew my mind. It’s a love story, historical fiction, mysticism, magicalism. I did not think I would be enraptured by a story that fits into all those categories. I’m memoir gal!

The story centers around David Baptiste, a young fisherman and native to fictional Conch Island. David, playing his guitar and smoking weed on his boat, draws the attention of Aycayia. From there on out, Aycayia only breaks the surface of the water to be in David’s presence. When Aycayia was a young woman, she was cursed to become a mermaid. The Women of her native island were jealous of her youth, beauty, and the attention their husbands paid to her. Forced to live a life of solitude for centuries in the ocean, Aycayia swims and stays out of view of humans, except for David. The two grow accustomed to seeing each other. One fateful day she mistakes the motor of another fishing boat for his and gets captured by American fishermen, who are only on the island for seasonal fishing before heading back the States.

Before reeling her in, the American father-son duo, more so the father, salivate imagining the enormous marlin they snagged. The father has immediate fantasies of becoming rich and famous, when after hours of struggle, the large mermaid is pulled onto the boat. Once ashore, news spreads quickly on the small island. Wracked with guilt, David rescues Aycayia, while the men are prematurely celebrating their riches at the bar. David stows her in his home, hoping to nurse her back to health and tend to her wounds before returning her to sea.

Slight glitch: Aycayia begins to morph back into a woman, though traces of being a mermaid, like webbed fingers, the smell of the ocean and her sharp teeth remain. Her shiny scales turn to skin and her tail becomes legs again. There’s a short-lived “manhunt” for Aycayia. Those who saw her believe she escaped back into the ocean. Those who didn’t, believe she’s a tale made up by drunk fishermen. Also, legend has it that there were mermen, not mermaids.

The Americans return home. Aycayia sings in a foreign language but can’t speak. Despite the language barrier, Aycayia and David forge a relationship, though there are moments of distrust. Aycayia is weary of people.

The story is narrated through three points of view: David’s 2016 journal in which he looks back at the events of 1976 when Aycayia was caught. We learn of his family ties to Arcadia, the only white woman on the island and who has a child with David’s uncle, who has been absent in his deaf son’s life for 10 years. Aycayia herself is a narrator. The reader gets to hear the eternal mermaid’s young and innocent thoughts and about her life pre-curse. She refers to years as cycles and sex as “the in and out.” The final narrator is omniscient and tells us about the secret and not-so-secret relationships, thoughts and feelings of the other islanders who play pivotal roles in not only supporting David in his caretaking of Aycayia, but also those who betray them and break up their budding romance.

The novel is rife with love, jealousy, longing, greed, family ties, communication, language, language barriers and bonds. The debate for the people of the island and the reader is whether Aycayia is human, fish, or half and half. No one, other than the Americans, believe she is property.

Never in a million years would I think that adult me would love a book centered around a mermaid. Just like when I watched Disney’s The Little Mermaid and await the live action version starring Halle Bailey, I had zero problems suspending disbelief to get into the story. The descriptions and narrations are beautiful. I feel empathy for Aycayia and loathe the fishermen and the people who try to capture her.

This was not my first time reading a novel with mention of a mermaid. Libertie, another historical fiction novel that takes place on an island (Haiti) and also in Brooklyn, written by Kaitlyn Greenidge has a mermaid character, but she’s not the main as Acayia is. It is not uncommon for mermaids to appear in African and Caribbean literature. They are part of the folklore.

I listened to the audiobook while cooking dinner and washing dishes. I could easily see a movie unfold in my mind’s eye. I don’t want it to be adapted because it would be ruined. I don’t want to see bad CGI as her tail turns to legs. Is there an actress beautiful enough to play Aycayia? She seemed mesmerizing.

I’m glad I listened to the audiobook. I loved hearing the lovely lilting Caribbean accents of narrators Ben Onwukue and Vivienne Acheampong. It was easy to follow as the book jumped back and forth between 1975 and 2016. David and Aycayia often picked up where the other left off. I wouldn’t call it a romance novel, but it’s definitely a love story. An unconventional love story, but still beautiful and pure. I highly recommend this novel.

View all my reviews

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: