There is the kind of book that you linger over--savoring every word, marveling at the language, feeling yourself rise and fall with the cadence of beautifully written prose. And then there are those books that you devour, the ones that leave you bleary eyed the next morning because you just had to stay up to finish it. Lisa Carey's The Mermaids Singing manages to accomplish that rare feat of being both.
Carey's novel is a delicate tapestry woven from people, place, and myth. The story takes place predominantly on a tiny island off the west coast of Ireland, and tells of three generations of Irish and Irish-American women, intertwining their tales with with those of their mythical namesakes. The novel opens with Grace--strong, beautiful, and sexual--in the last days of her life, dying from breast cancer and leaving behind a teenage daughter, Gráinne. The rest of the book is told in the alternating narratives of Gráinne, and Grace's mother, Clíona, unknown to Gráinne until her mother's death. Clíona comes to take her granddaughter back to Ireland to meet a father that she did not know existed. Within the different perspectives secrets are revealed and stories are told and retold by the impatient, angry and hopeful voice of a girl, and the wiser, regretful voice of an old woman. At the center is Grace, mother to one and daughter to the other, whom Gráinne and Clíona must help each other to know, understand, and forgive.
Lisa Carey has written a book that will be enjoyed for its supple, sensual prose, admired for it's deep understanding of the complicated relationships within families, and cherished for the simple, compelling beauty of its story.
In Bold Type this month you'll find an excerpt from The Mermaids Singing, an essay on island life, and an author reading.
Photo of Lisa Carey copyright © Matthew Swig
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