Once there was a fisherman who lived on a cold and rocky coast and was never able to convince any woman to come away and live in that forbidding place with him. One evening he pulled up his net and found a woman in it. A woman with black hair and eyes as grey as a stormy sea and a gleaming fish’s tail instead of legs.
The storm in her eyes rolled into his heart. She stopped her thrashing and crashing at his voice, though she did not understand his words. But her eyes had seen inside of him, and his loneliness caught her more surely than the net. So she stayed with him, and loved him, though he grew old, and she did not.
Remarks of this strange and unusual woman travelled from village to village and town to town, until they reached the ears of a man whose business was in the selling of the strange and unusual.
His name was P.T. Barnum, and he d been looking for a mermaid.
My reading experience:
Set in the middle of the nineteenth century, this is an absolutely mesmerising piece of magical realism; the mermaid magical and real, Barnum ugly and loathsome. No Disney influences here. As a reader this made the book very adult and believable.
Our mermaid is a lost soul – does she save the fisherman from his loneliness or he from hers? After many years with him she has observed human behaviour and yet once amongst city society is still surprised and disappointed at human failings. This story of Amelia and her journey with the greatest showman is ethereal and hypnotic, immersive in moments where you feel she is claustrophobic from being landlocked and “caged”, and beautiful when you see how free and open she is.
This story carefully touches on what it is that makes us human and boldly berates us for treating animals so badly. Historically it is the human condition to rid ourselves of things we don’t understand instead of embracing something new, and thankfully there are small signs of this changing.
Themes: spectacle, side show, museum, circus, love, loss, magic, social etiquette, women’s roles, social values, grief, loneliness, human condition
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