One of my favorite fairy tales has always been The Little Mermaid. Mermaids fascinate me; I’ve been writing stories about them since elementary school. With this tale, while I’m obsessed with the sugary Disney version I grew up with, I also love the original story. It’s so sad and tears my heart apart. The mermaid goes through absolute hell in order to be with the man she loves and in the end, it still isn’t enough. Mermaid by Carolyn Turgeon deals with the Hans Christian Anderson version of TLM, but with her own twist. For the first time (that I’ve seen), the tale is told through the eyes of the princess in addition to the mermaid we all know and love. As soon as I realized we were going to get her perspective on everything, I knew I had to buy Mermaid and bring it home.
The novel doesn’t disappoint, either. I was swept away by Turgeon’s lush descriptions. I wanted to live beneath the sea with Lenia (The Little Mermaid) and her kin. I loved her description of mermaids, the way their skin was hard and diamond-like, able to withstand the cold. Turgeon introduces her own mermaid lore as well. When a human is touched by a mermaid, a trail of shimmer and diamond is left on his or her skin in that spot. Additionally, she describes the way mermaids and humans used to be one race until the king and queen had a major falling out. The king tore up the sea and created land and gave his followers legs instead of tails. There was so much to envision and explore that I never saw coming.
Whenever I read a re-telling of The Little Mermaid, it always tends to follow the Disney route, complete with a happily ever after. I was enamored with the way Turgeon takes Lenia down the sadder path. It was interesting to see why she made the decisions she did, why she fell in love, her obsession with souls, etc. After making her deal with the sea witch, her tongue is torn out and I can feel her pain, but even more so when she tries to walk. I agonized with the mermaid every step of the way. Turgeon really brought her plight to life. Same with the princess. Hidden at a convent so her father’s enemies won’t find her, Princess Margrethe stumbles upon the mermaid and a washed-up sailor. She never realizes he’s the prince of the enemy kingdom, takes him in, and saves his life. Seeing the way her life pans out really fleshes out the original version of the tale. The princess was nothing more than an afterthought then, with no motivations of her own. I loved seeing the way Turgeon brought everyone together and carried out the story I love so much.
Even knowing the original tale, there are still new twists and turns that will come as a surprise to readers. Because of this, the novel never got old or boring. My only complaint was that at times, the lack of using contractions in sentences stood out, but this was forgivable due to the fact that people spoke in such a fashion back then. Turgeon tried very hard to keep to her time period without any modern influences. For example, the focus on religion and a joining of souls worked well. It wasn’t preachy, but rather laid things out in a “this is how the world is” fashion. Mermaid very much read like a proper periodical and I was completely drawn into the world in which everything took place.
This is one of those covers that reveals things to you the more you look at it. The first time I saw it on the New Arrivals Table, all I noticed was the model’s neck and the way her hair is pulled off her nape. It was the word “Mermaid” that stood out to me. Then, I saw the awesome blurb by Keith Donohue (The Stolen Child; great book!). It was the synopsis on the back that drew me in. It wasn’t until I picked the book up to read for the first time that I realized her neck and shoulders were actually joined to her back and that she sported a tail. I like to think I had my hand on her tail when I was looking at the store. I have a feeling I thought all the darkness beneath her shoulder/arm was a dress. I remember thinking there should have been a mermaid on the cover, not a girl’s neck. But upon closer, inspection, voila: it’s a mermaid! Very cool. I also love the typography used for the title. The “M” has a great curl that swirls into the “e” and dips back out again. There’s also a wave that comes in through the second “m” and swirls through it and the “r,” twirling away and trailing off like a wave. There’s also a bit of glitter around the title that reminds me of the shimmer a mermaid leaves behind on a human’s skin. While this isn’t the most eye-catching cover in the world, its elements pull everything together nicely. The title design is definitely my favorite aspect.
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