An isolated, struggling fishing village, inward-looking and increasingly dependent on the outside world for its survival.
And then at dawn, one early-summer morning, the fifteen-year-old Sarah Carr witnesses a group of mermaids, and immediately that small, suspicious world is divided between those of its inhabitants desperate to regard this sighting as their salvation, as something to be advertised and exploited; and those who understand only too well the ridicule, pity and contempt this might equally swiftly bring down upon them.
All now depends on somehow verifying what Sarah Carr says she saw, and over the course of those few overheated days, the whole world appears in turmoil – a place of scarcely-believable wonders and possibilities; a place of squandered opportunities, and of tawdry and regrettable compromises.
And for those few tumultuous, alarming days a natural balance is irretrievably lost, and the whole village, with the girl immovable and unflinching at its centre, struggles to regain that balance and to ensure that that which might secure and safeguard its future – the sighting of the mythical creatures themselves – does not now, ultimately lead to its destruction from within.
Sarah Carr is the daughter of an alcoholic fisherman, her mother having died giving birth to her. She lives in a small village that’s dying by degrees as the fishing industry falters and its tourist charm wanes. One morning, while combing the beach with a group of other girls, she finds a group of mermaids bathing in a cave pool. Although the girls agree to keep it secret, some of them can’t resist the urge to tell their parents and soon the news spreads, bringing more tourists to the area.
But some in the village are unhappy at the way it’s changing their life – the tacky commercialisation and the way that Sarah’s father exploits her connection to the events. The local magistrate decides to bring her in for questioning to make her confess that the story is a lie and the two engage in a battle of wits over ownership of what really happened that morning.
This is a thoughtful, slow-moving novella that looks of the effects of the girls’ claim (both on them and on the village) and it raises more questions than it answers. Sarah Carr is a fascinating character, both victim of her father and controller of her own destiny she’s in a flux caused by her coming to terms with her sexuality. Her battle of wits with the magistrate is well written. Less convincing though is her interaction with a photographer covering the story – specifically her naiveté at believing what he tells her.
It’s a beautifully written poignant story and one that lingers with you long after you’ve finished it. Worth checking out a copy if you can find one from the limited run.
A slow-paced, sad and thought-provoking novella that leaves you with unanswered questions that linger for a while. This was published in a limited print run but it’s worth trying to track down a copy.
Cross-posted to books and bookworming.