In 1976, David is fishing off the island of Black Conch when he comes upon a creature he doesn't expect: a mermaid by the name of Aycayia. Once a beautiful young woman, she was cursed by jealous wives to live in this form for the rest of her days. But after the mermaid is caught by American tourists, David rescues and hides her away in his home, finding that, once out of the water, she begins to transform back into a woman.
Now David must work to win Aycayia's trust while she relearns what it is to be human, navigating not only her new body but also her relationship with others on the island—a difficult task after centuries of loneliness.
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.