Sunday, July 1, 2018

Review: The Mermaid

The Mermaid The Mermaid by Christina Henry
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I was a little afraid to read this book simply because I loved "The Greatest Showman" so much. Of course, I read a little more about Barnum and so I wasn't expecting a saint. On the other hand, I didn't want my version of him to be sullied. I have absolutely no doubt that Christina Henry began this book long before "The Greatest Showman." In fact, she admits that she spent a great deal of time researching P.T. Barnum and eventually created a man that fit her purpose which, incidentally, is very near the kind of man my mind created. Human, fallible, complicated, interested in making money, and a very good showman.

"...the trick, really - making sure nobody could prove what Barnum wasn't true."

"A bird in a cage still knows it's in a cage, even if the bars are made of gold."

The author creates a story of the "Fee Jee Mermaid." The book begins by telling the story of a lonely fisherman who catches a mermaid and cuts her loose. The mermaid recognizes the loneliness in the fisherman and chooses to come ashore and be his wife. For the years of the fisherman's life, Amelia, the mermaid, lives as a human woman, Jack's wife, weathering the wagging tongues of where she came from and why she never ages, and also returns to the sea at night to swim and be who she is. But Jack grows old and eventually dies. Amelia continues to be a young woman and she waits for Jack. For decades.

Enter P.T. Barnum, or rather, Levi, his lawyer. Little is known of Levi hence the author takes creative license to create him perfectly for the story. He is sent to offer the alleged mermaid a place in his museum. The story navigates this beautiful, terrifying, and honest creature through the constructs of P.T. Barnum's belief system of acquiring interesting objects of curiosities including animals, creatures, and different human beings. Barnum is not the main character, by any means, yet he makes decisions that drive the story.

The author brings depth to characters both real and fictional. Amelia is an interesting and complex character who sees things honestly and simply without all the political tainting of modern(ish) society. There is a lovely interchange she has with Levi as he tries to explain to her what "savages" are on the Cook Islands. Her reasoning is so innocent and beautiful and his is so entrenched in society. Additionally, and relevant to this point, Amelia has grown close to Charity and Caroline, Barnum's wife and oldest daughter.

"Amelia finally realized it was because he himself did not understand what it meant to be different and to have people expect you to change for their sake. She realized that no man could understand this, really, though they expected their wives to do so every day."

Really wonderful book. Great for a book club.

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