I initially read about this book on Entertainment Weekly, with the announcement that it was going to be made into a movie. I was immediately intrigued by the fact that it was based much more closely on Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tale than the *ahem* other mermaid stories out there currently. In other words, there are no talking animal sidekicks or murderous French chefs, and the sea witch actually ISN’T evil.
Lenia is the daughter of the Sea King, and has just turned 18. It’s a mermaid tradition that all merpeople are able to go see the land above for one day, only on their 18th birthday. Lenia emerges from the ocean’s depths to a violent storm, and sees a ship breaking apart before her eyes. She decides to rescue one of the sailors, as watching them all die is too terrible, and carries him to shore and safety. She is fascinated by the human man, remembering stories that her grandmother told her about humans and their souls. Mermaids live 300 years, and on that day gracefully turn to foam and become part of the ocean. Lenia finds this prospect too bleak, and is more attracted to the idea of the human soul, which lives forever in heaven.
Meanwhile, Margarethe, the daughter of the Northern King, is in hiding in a convent by the sea from the enemies of her father’s kingdom. She is out in the convent garden and sees the mermaid wash up on shore carrying the prince. She is entranced by the beautiful woman from the sea, and even more so by the love she shows the near-drowned man. At that moment, Lenia catches her eye and telepathically tells her to help the man. With a flick of her tail, she returns to the sea.
The mystery man is quickly nursed back to health at the convent, but both women remain haunted by their encounters with him and each other. Both are willing to make extreme sacrifices to recapture the sense of magic that they felt at experiencing the other’s world…
I’d read the original Hans Christian Andersen version of this tale, and while I was absorbed in the story, had a slight sense of dread for fear of the ending. I had trouble getting attached to both female leads because of the impending sense of tragedy. This is a gorgeously written book, both consistent in its period voice and attentive to detail in both the undersea kingdom and the world above. Both women are complex, though the fascination of each with religion gets slightly tedious (Lenia’s desire for a soul and Margarethe’s conviction that God sent the mermaid and man to her).
Turgeon takes a well-known tale and rewrites it beautifully- very few books are able to move me to tears, and this one definitely joins their ranks. I look forward to seeing any news on the movie adaptation moving forward.
Reading Now: “The Dark and Hollow Places”~ Carrie Ryan
To Read: “Pwned”~ Erika Mitchell
“A Discovery of Witches”~ Deborah Harkness