There is no romance quite like Monique Roffey’s “The Mermaid of Black Conch”

Written by Jess Sturnam-Coombs for The Mechanics' Institute Review on Wednesday, February 5th, 2020

The prose is musical, elegantly poetic, and laps at the senses via three cleverly distinct voices: the narrator who moves this story along at a steady pace, David the sweetest of Black Conch fisherman, and Aycayia the soulful ill-fated mermaid from some other place entirely. Despite this back and forth there is no jarring; it is easy to move between tellings, to hear each point and perspective from this perfectly formed narrative triangle. I found myself entranced by the style and fluency, as much as the fantasy.

The setting is slow and lush, full of colour and texture, which makes it beautifully three dimensional, with a feeling of movement that lifts and carries you through. There is beauty in the grimness too. The battle out at sea is exhausting and Roffey does not feel inclined to save us from it, taking her time and elevating how painful it is to observe. As the reader, you stand by and watch it unfold, horrified by the carnal pleasure it triggers for those involved in the hunt of something so gentle and innocent. It feels like whaling. It feels like trophy hunting. It feels like an utter tragedy. It took me back to how I felt at the removal of Aslan’s mane in the Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe. Man overpowers beast and, on that deck and jetty, fantasy very much merges with the cold brutalness of reality.