Once there was a mermaid who longed to know of more than her ocean home and her people. One day a fisherman trapped her in his net but couldn’t bear to keep her. But his eyes were lonely and caught her more surely than the net, and so she evoked a magic that allowed her to walk upon the shore. The mermaid, Amelia, became his wife, and they lived on a cliff above the ocean for ever so many years, until one day the fisherman rowed out to sea and did not return.
P. T. Barnum was looking for marvellous attractions for his American Museum, and he’d heard a rumour of a mermaid who lived on a cliff by the sea. He wanted to make his fortune, and an attraction like Amelia was just the ticket.
Amelia agreed to play the mermaid for Barnum, and she believes she can leave any time she likes. But Barnum has never given up a money-making scheme in his life, and he’s determined to hold on to his mermaid. (Goodreads)
I’m going to be completely honest. The Mermaid appealed to me not long after I had watched The Greatest Showman for the third time. I was under no illusions that this book would be similar to the movie, but I had a thirst for something surrounding Barnum and his “curiosities”, especially after I had did a bit of research on the real man and how he was portrayed on screen.
It has to be said that although Henry has stated that she created a Barnum to suit her story, her Barnum feels that much more in line with the picture I began to build due to my research. However, this book is not about Barnum and he is just a supporting player to our leading lady, Amelia.
Pardoning the pun, Amelia is such a fish out of water within New York Society. Even though she has lived on land for many years, Amelia still led a pretty sheltered life, protected by those that live in the little village. So, New York City is a culture shock for her.
The thing I found so interesting was the way in which Amelia is constantly questioning and challenging Barnum and the rules surrounding who she must act when she isn’t preforming. You can see how she struggles to adapt and fit in, but with the goal to get enough money to allow her to travel the world, she keeps going.
However, since she is not like the image portrayed by Barnum (a true half woman, half fish), and more like the mermaid seen in the Harry Potter films, people are both amazed and a little scared of her. Her very existence challenges their beliefs and naturally this results in a number of conflicts.
The really clever thing about this book is how Henry manages to shine a light on many topics that are still relevant today, even though its set over a hundred years in the pass. I found myself asking why it seems that we have moved on as a society in many ways, but there are still many expectations and rules that have barely moved on at all.
The ending had this almost whimsy and fairy tale feel to it. Henry manages to explain why Barnums Mermaid had been relegated to the shadows of history. She also manages to tie it in with another of his more famous displays.
It would be unfair to not mention Levi, Barnums lawyer who is sent to try to convince Amelia to join Barnums museum. Though he does play a part in the book and helps Amelia in man ways, towards the end I felt that he held her back in many ways and in the end though they did love each other, they were coming towards that part in their relationship where they could end up destroying each other.
The Mermaid is my first book by Henry and I can say hand on heart I will read her back catalogue. This book has that dark, Gothic feel to it that I do enjoy reading. You are naturally pulled into the world she has created and you want to read more. A great read all round