Mermaid: A Twist On A Classic Tale, by Carolyn Turgeon – Book Review

Mermaid, by Carolyn Turgeon

Lenia is a mermaid princess blessed with family, a beautiful voice, and a glorious home in the sea. On her eighteenth birthday she is allowed one overnight visit to the world above before she returns home to live out the rest of her 300 years. By chance on her day out, she comes across a shipwreck in progress and saves the life of a handsome man whom she delivers to Margarethe, a young woman taking refuge in a seaside monastery. Though none of them know it at the time, each of their destinies will be intertwined as a result of their meeting.

Carolyn Turgeon’s Mermaid: A Twist On The Classic Tale expands on Hans Christian Anderson’s classic fairytale, The Little Mermaid, never straying too far from the dark roots of the original story and expanding upon the major elements of the famous fairytale. The chief addition to this romantic cautionary tale is the narrative of Lenia shares with Margarethe, who is almost a non-character in the original tale (so briefly does she appear). A chance misunderstanding between the two women renders them unequal rivals for the prince’s affections, loyalty and sense of responsibility.

Turgeon deftly makes the case for both women – their love for the handsome prince and the stakes involved in each winning his hand – though I must confess I was heavily biased in favor of the mermaid. Cognizant of the social issues and stakes of pre-modern kingdoms, Turgeon weaves the poverty that war mad monarchs bring to their subjects, and the need for pride of country and community against the needs of the individual – weighing personal and community responsibility against love.  Both women are clearly constrained by the gender roles and expectations of society and work to achieve their goals within their limited means. Mermaid is a dark and mysterious tale with no easy answers and plenty of food for thought not only for girls, but for the women who would give themselves away for too dear a price. Recommended.

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1DA652C2516038AE4D02F55645591F39 On My Shelves: New Book Releases – March 27 – April 2, 2011

Review Copy.

Unlike Disney’s version, this anime version of The Little Mermaid closely follows the plot of the original tragic tale.

For more on Mermaid and The Little Mermaid, check out the What’s Old Is New Podcast episode on Fairy Tales where Jen and I chat with Carolyn Turgeon.

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  1. I like my fairy tales dark too, and my fairy tale retellings particularly, but I medium-dislike Hans Christian Anderson. All his characters get killed in nasty ways. I know he was gay and working through issues, but damn, they all turn to bubbles and freeze to death and burn up in fires. I can’t take it. I’d rather have the chipper versions of Anderson, and the grim versions of Grimm.

  2. This is the first review of this book I have read, but I have been hearing a lot about it. It actually sounds wonderful, and since this is one of my all-time favorite stories, I am thinking of adding this one to my collection very soon. I love the fact that it remains true to the original and is rather dark as well, and really enjoyed reading your take on it. I am off to see if I can score my own copy of this one. Thanks for the excellent and very enticing review!

  3. I am reading Wildwood Dancing by Juliet Marillier and it is also a retelling of a fairy tale, I am really enjoying it. This book looks like it would be great to read after Wildwood Dancing.

  4. I find it disconcerting when I disagree with Jenny, but I love Andersen, love the idea that there’s always a price to be paid for whatever happiness we get.

  5. I hadn’t heard of this one before, but it sounds wonderful! I don’t think I actually know the original story, so this would be especially interesting.

  6. I just checked out The Godmother from the library by this author. I’m really looking forward to reading it and will add this book to my wishlist as well. Great review!