In Review

Novel of the week: The Mermaid of Black Conch by Monique Roffey

This Costa Prize-winning novel ‘drags mermaids into the modern day’

The Mermaid of Black Conch by Monique Roffey

Monique Roffey’s latest novel, which won this year’s Costa Prize, is an entertaining, “shape-shifting” work that “drags mermaids into the modern day”, said Jade Cuttle in The Times.

On a fictional Caribbean island, a dark-skinned mermaid named Aycayia is fished out of the sea by a group of drunken holiday-makers, who proceed to string her upside down, “stub cigarettes on her stomach and tweak her nipples”. But a spliff-smoking local fisherman named David comes to her rescue: he carts her back to his house in a wheelbarrow, and the pair begin an unlikely romance. 

What makes this “bittersweet” novel really sing is the inclusion of “pin-sharp detail from the real world”, said Anthony Cummins in The Observer. Aycayia finds her tail rotting – and so learns to walk in a pair of David’s old Adidas. Her nostrils bleed “all kind of molluscs and tiny crabs”.

In the end, behind the “magic-realist shenanigans”, this is an “archetypal story” of a “disruptive outsider” in a small community. It’s a story that shows, as one character puts it, that womanhood is a “dangerous business”.

Peepal Tree Press 190pp £9.99; The Week bookshop £7.99

The Mermaid of Black Conch by Monique Roffey
The Week bookshop

To order this title or any other book in print, visit theweekbookshop.co.uk, or speak to a bookseller on 020-3176 3835. Opening times: Monday to Saturday 9am-5.30pm and Sunday 10am-4pm.

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