Carolyn Turgeon,
Mermaid: A Twist on the Classic Tale
(Broadway, 2011)

"The Little Mermaid" has never been my favorite fairy tale, and just about everything I disliked about it is magnified in this retelling: the clueless prince, the lovesick mermaid and the weird sentimentality of it all. I keep hoping for a retelling that will make the fairy tale more palatable, but Carolyn Turgeon's Mermaid: A Twist on the Classic Tale isn't it.

The premise is interesting enough. Turgeon shifts the focus away from the prince (here a faceless womanizer whose appeal is a complete mystery) to the two princesses: one human, one mermaid. The story starts when Princess Margrethe sees a beautiful mermaid haul an unconscious man to the shore, kiss him and silently beg Margrethe to help him. She does, and the prince mistakes her as the woman who saved him from drowning.

Stop me if this is sounding familiar. Shifting perspectives between Margrethe and the mermaid Lenia, the plot follows Andersen's story faithfully for most of the book, so there are few real surprises. Margrethe's fascination with both Lenia and the prince leads to a lopsided love triangle, complete with flowery but non-graphic sex, an incredibly vague war in an equally vague setting and the inevitable awkwardness of French kissing a girl without a tongue. The scenes set in the underwater world have the potential to be interesting, but the most we really get out of them is an explanation of why mermaids don't go wrinkly from being in the water all the time (thicker, harder skin). Good to know.

The main problem isn't the flimsy plot that reunites the three characters, or even the stilted dialogue. It's the flatness of both central characters. Margrethe is your average mildly spirited princess, and Lenia is so bland that losing her ability to speak doesn't make much difference. It's hard to care what happens to either of them.

At about 250 pages, Mermaid is a quick read with occasionally pretty descriptions, but not a memorable one.

book review by
Jennifer Mo

10 December 2011

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