Book Review: The Mermaid's Daughter
By: Ann Claycomb
Published By: William Morrow
Publication Date: March 7, 2017
Page Count: 448
Source: ARC Kindly Provided by Publisher via Edelweiss
Adult - Fantasy, Fairy Tale Inspired
Fairy Tale Inspired novels seem to be cropping up all over the place in YA literature right now, but this is the first one I can recall reading recently that combines fairy tale inspiration with adult fiction. As a child, I loved the Disney version of The Little Mermaid was a personal favorite. I would watch it over and over again while imagining that I was a mermaid just like Ariel. While Disney added the happy ending and sanitized the original Hans Christian Andersen version quite a bit, I didn't realize how dark the source material truly was until I was much older. Learning about the original didn't lessen my fond childhood memories of Ariel and Eric, but it did make me crave learning more about the source material and researching mermaid lore.
As soon as I heard about The Mermaid's Daughter, I couldn't wait to read it. This novel is not a retelling, but rather a continuation of the original tale. The source material has the little mermaid feeling so melancholy after not being able to be with the prince that she visits the sea witch to barter; she wants to become human and the witch agrees but the price is steep. The mermaid must give up her voice and lose her tongue in exchange for the potion that will transform her fin into legs. Furthermore, she agrees to live with a stabbing pain in her feet for the rest of her life. The pain and loss is her penance for choosing a fate beyond the sea. Lastly, the mermaid must obtain the prince's love before he marries another to gain a human soul or she will die and return to the sea as foam. It's a fair cry from the happy Ariel who swims around with Flounder and Sebastian.
All of the elements concerning the witch's price are woven into the novel in the form of a curse that has been plaguing generations of Kathleen's family. Kathleen is the main focus of the novel as she has inherited the curse. Her mother loaded her pocket with rocks and walked into the sea to escape the pain and constant dread just like her mother and grandmother before her. The curse stretches back as far as anyone can remember. Kathleen is largely ignorant of this history, but she knows the stabbing pain in her feet and the bouts of searing pain in her mouth are not normal. The only thing that eases Kathleen's suffering is sea water. It's the one place she feels truly at home.
Kathleen's father, Robin, plays a role in the story as he left Ireland with his baby daughter, hoping that getting her far from the green shores would save her from a fate like her mother. Kathleen is also supported by her girlfriend, Harriet aka Harry.
From Boston to Florida to Ireland, Kathleen and Harry seek answers to Kathleen's malady and the fate of the women before her. How is she tied to the sea? What must she do to break the cycle? Is it possible for her to find happiness? I was captivated by the lore and the Irish setting. It was a beautiful way to escape a hectic work week.
I loved that this novel was written as an opera would be in various segments led by different characters. Kathleen, Harry, and Robin all have moments when they drive the narration. There are also interludes by a chorus of witches that were reminiscent of the fates from Greek mythology.
The Mermaid's Daughter is a beautiful and haunting tribute to Andersen's original mermaid. I highly recommend it if you're looking for a little magic with a dark flair in your summer reading.
One Last Gripe: I was more interested in the magical realism elements than the opera elements, so those moments were a bit slow for me.
Favorite Thing About This Book: I loved the segments that took place in Ireland.
First Sentence: "Kathleen," she says, "you are going to go mad."
Favorite Character: Harry
Least Favorite Character: Kathleen - only because it took me awhile to warm up to her
A modern-day expansion of Hans Christian Andersen’s The Little Mermaid, this unforgettable debut novel weaves a spellbinding tale of magic and the power of love as a descendent of the original mermaid fights the terrible price of saving herself from a curse that has affected generations of women in her family.
Kathleen has always been dramatic. She suffers from the bizarre malady of experiencing stabbing pain in her feet. On her sixteenth birthday, she woke screaming from the sensation that her tongue had been cut out. No doctor can find a medical explanation for her pain, and even the most powerful drugs have proven useless. Only the touch of seawater can ease her pain, and just temporarily at that.
Now Kathleen is a twenty-five-year-old opera student in Boston and shows immense promise as a soprano. Her girlfriend Harry, a mezzo in the same program, worries endlessly about Kathleen's phantom pain and obsession with the sea. Kathleen's mother and grandmother both committed suicide as young women, and Harry worries they suffered from the same symptoms. When Kathleen suffers yet another dangerous breakdown, Harry convinces Kathleen to visit her hometown in Ireland to learn more about her family history.
In Ireland, they discover that the mystery—and the tragedy—of Kathleen’s family history is far older and stranger than they could have imagined. Kathleen’s fate seems sealed, and the only way out is a terrible choice between a mermaid’s two sirens—the sea, and her lover. But both choices mean death…
Haunting and lyrical, The Mermaid’s Daughter asks—how far we will go for those we love? And can the transformative power of music overcome a magic that has prevailed for generations?