“Do not mistake the revelation of my body for the revelation of my heart. My heart keeps its own secrets, and they don’t belong to you or anyone else just because you’ve seen me with a fish tail.”
Christina Henry | The Mermaid| p. 155
Do you remember the story of a little mermaid who fell in love with a human prince? Remember how she made a deal with a sea witch to be able to walk upon sand instead of using her fish tail to swim freely through the ocean’s depths? For love, she gave up what she used to be: a creature of the sea.
Other than I thought at first, this fairy tale by Hans Christian Andersen can only be found within the smallest of traces in Christina Henry’s magical retelling ‘The Mermaid‘. Because, yes, her story is that of a mermaid who also decides to leave the ocean for a human she fell in love with. But it is so much more than that! This love story between the mermaid and the fisherman who captured her heart by letting her free when she was tangled up in his net is just the beginning. From there on, she becomes his wife and stays with him. But she’s always able to transform into her mermaid body, never giving up her life under the sea.
She loved him almost as much as she loved the sea, and so they were well matched, for he loved the sea almost as much as he loved her. He’d never thought any person could draw him more than the ocean, but the crashing waves were there in her eyes and the salt of the spray was in her skin and there, too, was something in her that the sea could never give. The ocean could never love him back, but Amelia did. -p.18
But mermaids age differently than humans, and so there comes the day Amelia is left alone with only her grief to keep her company, staring out at the sea that had been, long time ago, her home. Meanwhile, there’s a businessman looking for a mermaid, and he hears rumors about a mermaid living amongst people near the ocean… When Amelia finally meets P.T. Barnum, said businessman with an eye for the strange and – most importantly – for his own profit, she signs a contract: she will be his mermaid on display, changing into her true form every night in front of curious spectators, in exchange for a sum she hopes to buy her freedom with.
Although I expected something entirely different from this story, I really liked this tale of Amelia, a mermaid consciously deciding to let others see her change. And Amelia is a wonderful protagonist. She’s a wild one, free of vanity and won’t be the bird in a golden cage. This mermaid has her beliefs and boundaries, and she will not have them overstepped by anyone – something P.T. Barnum finds out very quickly after meeting her. What I love most about Amelia is her true self. She isn’t this busty, glamorous woman with a fishtail instead of legs. Whenever Amelia changes into a mermaid, she becomes a creature of the sea: silvery scales all over her body, deadly claws instead of slender fingers, only her stormcoloured eyes remain the same.
Phineas Taylor Barnum on the other hand, the showman who hires Amelia for his museum of oddities, is what I would call Amelia’s antagonist. The real P.T. Barnum, who lived during the ninetheenth Century, has been the source of many an adapation so far. No wonder, since his life had been quite a whirlwind back in the days: just like the P.T. Barnum in Henry’s story, he was an entrepreneur, a showman, a collector of unusal things that most of the time turned out to be hoaxes. The Barnum in ‘The Mermaid’ can (and will) turn anything into money, and Amelia knows what kind of a man she’s dealing with, and I really like that about her.
The seawater was a different problem altogether. How to collect it, how to carry it, and how to keep it from fouling if it was in the tank for several days – all these problems needed to be solved, and they needed to be solved with as little expense as possible.
They wanted the moon, but they didn’t realize it cost the earth. – p. 141f.
Just like her other retellings, this one is written beautifully, and Amelia and most of the other protagonists grew very close to my heart. But it still couldn’t move me the way ‘Lost Boy’ or ‘Red Queen’ were able to. Indeed, although there was a lot going on and some parts made me shake my head in desperation because of those situations, it didn’t grip me as I had hoped it would. Nevertheless, ‘The Mermaid’ was more than enjoyable and I can assure you that I’ll return to Christina Henry’s writing time and time again.
Author: Christina Henry
Title: The Mermaid
Press: Titan Books
Year of publication: 2018
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