We all know this fairly predictable mermaid myth. A sea maiden is caught by a sailor, falls in love with the land and abandons her tail for two feet. Though The Mermaid follows this same formula, Christina Henry gives us enough unique turns to make this novel hold its own among the recent influx of mermaid fiction.
Amelia is more a wild thing of the ocean than a stereotypical half-fish-half-maiden. She clings to love and land, but when her sailor husband disappears on his boat many years into their marriage, she feels haunted by his loss. She waits for his return for a century before an emissary of Barnum’s American Museum (yes, that same historical figure of circus fame) brings her back to perform as Barnum’s Mermaid. Amelia joins the circus as an opportunity to see the world and earn an income to support her land excursions, but is soon overwhelmed by the pitfalls of freak show fame.
The tone of the novel is much like a lost chapter of Andersen’s The Little Mermaid. It’s sweet, straightforward, and never deceives. Barnum is handled as a type of capitalistic villain as the author stretches his biography to meet her needs, but it works well as an antithesis to freedom-loving Amelia. Her new beau and Barnum’s right-hand-man Levi Lyman leaves much to be desired as a modern male heartthrob–he’s dull, passive, unremarkable, but devoted.
Overall, I liked Henry’s The Mermaid for a lighthearted summer read. It’s compulsively readable and easy to smile through. Expected publication date, June 19th.
Want more Barnum?
I (unintentionally) planned my read of The Mermaid to come after watching Hugh Jackman’s portrayal of Barnum in the recent musical The Greatest Showman. After watching Hugh’s many-layered portrayal of Barnum, imagining him as The Mermaid‘s conniving villain was hilarious. In my head, Barnum wasn’t the portly, piggish jerk that Christina Henry wrote, but just a really grumpy Hugh Jackman. That might be why I was still a fan of his character, whenever he showed up to throw a wrench in the plot. My inner child won’t exactly miss the circus (animal rights issues aside, the circus was always a terrifying cesspool of crowds and bad smells) but I’m glad the mythos will live on in Hollywood and literature.
Thanks to Penguin’s First to Read for the ARC copy in exchange for an honest review.