The Mermaid of Black Conch is told from three distinct narrative voices ... For a book with this much story, the changes of perspective allow for a nimbleness that does much with a relatively small space ... Aycayia can come to stand in for many ideas and reactions to womanhood, especially Indigenous womanhood. That’s a lot of symbol to place on her shoulders, and the book falters when it tries too explicitly to make meaning of what has been delicately left unsaid. And with a cast of characters so large, some of the minor but crucial ones...can feel a little one-dimensional, especially since we have direct access to their consciousness. Still, one can’t help admiring the boldness of Roffey’s vision, and allowing some flaws to a book this bighearted. Sentence by sensuous sentence, Roffey builds a verdant, complicated world that is a pleasure to live inside.
The language of this tale...is what makes it sing ... Running through this allegory is the idea that oppression takes different forms, but whether grounded in racial, gender or ecological prejudices, it always stems from the oppressor’s insecurities. Feminist motifs are amplified through role reversals and literary parallels ... Aycayia makes them – and us – newly aware of historical injustice, capturing it in a flash of her tail.
Monique Roffey isn’t giving us an endearing tale of love — this is a story of duality and curses ... Sexual tension is constant throughout a story that, perversely, loses steam as it nears its climax. Roffey, however, makes up for a lackluster ending with the strong storytelling up to that point ... Vivid imagery, discussion-worthy themes, Creole verbiage and a melding of history and magic make The Mermaid of the Black Conch come to life. It’s a confluence of lore in which subtle details change depending on who is telling the story.
Told in poetic, meticulous prose interspersed with oral storytelling verse, this novel is a love story between a mermaid and a fisherman. While this may seem like a tale often told, it is set apart by the rich materiality of the writing and of its Caribbean setting. While this is a true romance, a lush dance between two compelling characters, it is also about the logics and the violence of possession: how greed, envy, and the quest to own — land, money, people — hurts nature, people, and love itself ... Aligning with the novel’s feminist critique, the love affair between David and Aycayia reverses and upends many of the familiar narratives and stock imagery of Western mermaid lore ... Roffey’s language, somehow simultaneously quiet and highly sensory, gives her mermaid depth, wildness, rawness, and texture. Aycayia feels more natural than supernatural, her body inextricable from nature. She moves with muscular power, gleams with sharp appendages, and writhes with other creatures of the sea ... Roffey takes on the themes of genocide, colonialism, and enslavement — which, in a novel concerned with ownership and possession, is rarely mentioned — with a strangely gentle touch...I am also perplexed by the novel’s representation of Black women ... A difficult task within romance, it manages to maintain conflict and tension without creating arbitrary obstacles for the couple at its center. The plot moves forward in an organic-feeling way ... In capturing every detail of the mermaid’s slow, messy transformation back to woman, Roffey speaks to longings that, as a reader, I did not know I had ... Yes, I have some questions about a few of Roffey’s choices and depictions. But reading this novel, I also find myself thinking about how I want to be loved, about how I am loving or not loving those in my life. There are those who may need patience and care through their own transformations, and those who may, also, need to be let go.
Bittersweet ... What makes the novel sing is how Roffey fleshes out these mythical goings-on with pin-sharp detail from the real world ... This is the archetypal story of a disruptive outsider whose arrival alters a community by revealing it to itself, not always happily ... The Mermaid of Black Conch is no fairytale and there’s a limit to how well Aycayia’s story can end.
Picture in your mind a book about mermaids. Now turn that image upside down, set it on fire and pee all over it. That’s what Monique Roffey does in The Mermaid of Black Conch with her playful disregard for our conventional expectations ... Shortlisted for the Costa best novel award, the book is based on an ancient legend passed down by the indigenous people of the Caribbean ... There's comedy to lighten the mood ... The narrative is interspersed with poetry, journal entries, recollections and passages that give insight into various characters’ perspectives; this entertaining novel, like Aycayia, is itself a shape-shifting curiosity.
... mesmerizing ... It is the combination of these two voices --- the mythical storyteller with the mermaid info and the deep-feeling fisherman with the desire to keep this woman of the sea safe as his only true love --- that creates a compelling story that will keep you glued to the page ... Aycayia is so strong and caring that we feel as if the magical realism of the novel has taken the genre itself into new and exciting territory. Readers surely will fall in love with the love story that plays like Shakespeare in island patois. David’s voice is so heartbreaking and Aycayia’s thoughts are so modern that their desires may overwhelm you as they do to themselves ... Roffey never allows her work to fall into any clichéd traps about humans and fish. It has a potent sense of magic and reality, and the characters are caught in the conundrums both present as they try to change for each other while revealing what they most want for themselves. This is a very human story told in the guise of a mythical relationship and a search for what is and what can be home to any thinking creature ... a dramatic and truly contemporary look at an old fish-out-of-water story. It is a revelation, and a very fine and fulfilling read.
This premise may sound outlandish, but the strange magic in The Mermaid of Black Conch is the best kind — wondrous, amazing to all who encounter it, but utterly real. So real that the novel’s characters have no choice but to accept it and ride the wave of trouble that it brings ... Roffey is absolute in her commitment to the head-to-tail reality of her mermaid, Aycayia, which is key to the success of this wild, engaging story ... After the spellbinding fishing scene, the narrative never returns to the same level of suspense, though it’s well paced and cleverly structured, with multiple narrators, including the mermaid herself. The middle of the book is slow by comparison, but there is plenty of dramatic action to come as the story heads toward its conclusion ... Aycayia is fascinating, although she doesn’t feel as fully developed, as 'real,' as the other characters. But this is understandable; she is not of this world. She is an ancient being, cursed to roam the sea forever, created by the author out of the myths of the long-lost Taíno people of the Caribbean ... Roffey’s writing is a delight to swim in. It’s lyrical and lovely, and it flows clear and deep as the waters around Black Conch. Her landscape descriptions are rich, whether she is painting pictures of the lush forest shading Miss Rain’s house or of the ocean.
The Mermaid of Black Conch never feels like it dwells too long in the realm of the intangible. Full of lean, elegant, evocative prose that never overstays its welcome or drifts too far from its narrative, this finely honed novel about belonging, alienation and the enduring power of stories moves with the breathtaking rush of an ocean wave ... Roffey's tale alternates among different points of view with the lithe dexterity of a fishtail ... Roffey's prose is a shape-shifting, living thing, moving through emotional highs and lows with an almost mercurial grace. Roffey achieves this flow state with astonishing economy, which enables her to linger on existential questions ... A gripping dark fairy tale that any fan of contemporary fantasy will happily swim through.
Told through journal entries written by Baptiste decades after the events, verse snippets from Aycayia, and omniscient narration swirling through a core group of characters, the mermaid’s melancholy tale is a clear colonial allegory, the story of an island nation and its history of Indigenous people vanishing, slavery, European domination, and independence, with an uneasy and watchful present relationship between the White and Black islanders. These relationships, especially, are keenly observed and wrought ... A mournful tour through Caribbean history via one of its most indelible legends.