The Mermaid of Black Conch by Monique Roffey
A beautiful, beguiling mix of fantasy and allegory, myth woven into life, which says something of the our humanity, the darkness and the light. A simple tale elegantly told that enfolds the reader into its sense of wonder and mystery. Life’s cruelty is on display but this is a love story, (maybe even two love stories); redolent with loss and longing and the desire to escape. To escape not just the bonds that restrict us but the relationships and attachments we form willingly when overwhelmed by an urge to be free, to be who we are. A tale of worlds colliding and stars aligning.
If you see David Baptiste now, wizened features and grey dreadlocks you might but struggle to imagine the young man who found the mermaid in 1976, most of the locals in St. Constance have long forgotten the affair:
‘…when those white men from Florida came to fish for marlin and instead pulled a mermaid out of the sea. It happened in April, after the leatherbacks had started to migrate.’
She would never have been caught if David and her hadn’t flirted the way they did by the jagged rocks of the Black Conch waters, a mile or so from Murder Bay. David was happy with his ganja, his guitar and his fishing, red snapper and king fish. Then he spotted her while he was singing and playing, her seaweed and barnacle matted hair, his heart thumped, he was trembling:
“Holy Mother of Holy God on earth.”
When he saw her she dove under the waves and no amount of entreaties would bring her back that day, for sure she was a mermaid. Then he returned the next day and so did the mermaid, and everyday there after, it was a secret innocent tryst that went on over the seasons, she loved his guitar, he didn’t tell his family, or his friends:
“Whenever I see the first leatherbacks arrive, I always feel happy, I know she, my mermaid, will soon appear, happy too, to greet me.’
Then in 1976 two white men arrive for the fishing, Thomas Clayson and his son. The mermaid mistook their engine for David’s boat and followed them, when they spied her they can only think about the money they could get from the Smithsonian for this find. They catch her after a prolonged brutal hunt, she fights for her life:
“I swam away, then dive deep
my terror was ENORMOUS
I swam but I still ketch
I want to go down to die’
The men leave her hanging on the dock like a slaughtered shark by her tail. David rescues her, revives her, she begins to change into human form, the white men hunt the mermaid and the thief. Aycayia is caught between two worlds, her growing love for David, her human desires and the call of the sea. Meanwhile hurricane Rosamund is brewing.
David’s journal looking back, rich local Trinidadian dialect:
‘I am an ol’ man now, and sick sick so I cyan move much, sick so I cyan work, go out to sea, and so I go write my story.’
narrating as it happens, told at the time the mermaids in verse:
‘long long ago so long I don’t know the time
only that they call that the huracan
to take me far away
seal up my like my legs inside a tail’
A powerful emotionally involving tale Loaded with bitter sweet, melancholy, that will transport readers to another place for a time.
If you like this novel I had previously enjoyed Roffey’s The Tryst (Dodo Ink Press, 2017), the tale of an erotic ménage a trois. She is a Trinidadian born British novelist and is a lecturer in creative writing.
Published by PEEPLE TREE PRESS, April, ISBN 9781845234577

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