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91. The Mermaid of Black Conch

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Join us as we discuss the winner of the 2020 Costa Book of the Year, an award that seemed to surprise booksellers and publishers Peepal Tree Press alike, who had to scramble to print new copies to meet demand. Even Margaret Atwood got excited about this ‘fishy tale of doomed womanhood’, tweeting ‘Not your standard mermaid. No comb and glass, no Lorelei hair. No catch and release…’ 

April 1976: St Constance, a tiny Caribbean village on the island of Black Conch, at the start of the rainy season. A fisherman sings to himself in his pirogue, waiting for a catch – but attracts a sea-dweller he doesn’t expect. Aycayia, a beautiful young woman cursed by jealous wives to live as a mermaid, has been swimming the Caribbean Sea for centuries. And she is entranced by this man David and his song.

And so what did we think of this unusual novel that weaves together sex, misogny and race with love, music, magic and myth, plus it throws in a few spliffs, a virginal mermaid, a crooked cop, and a chorus of vindictive women. All that in one book? Yes, indeed. Did it make for a good book club book? Was Kate able to cope with reading all the sex? If you buy a book about a mermaid is it then ok to complain it’s unrealistic? Listen in to find out.

Have you read this one? What did you think? Let us know in the comments below, we love to hear from you. What’s a mermaid-related read that you would recommend?

Book recommendations

Indigo by Marina Warner

Blonde Roots by Bernadine Evaristo

The Left-Hand of Darkness by Ursula Le Guin

Kitsch by Anthony Joseph

The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway

The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock by Imogen Hermes Gowar.

Don’t miss

Our episode on The Left-Hand of Darkness by Urusula Le Guin

Watch Bibliotherapist Ella Berthoud on ‘Mermaids in Literature’.


The audio sample was from Audible and read by Ben Onwukue and Vivienne Acheampong 



  • Valarie Henrichson
    April 30, 2021 at 7:30 pm  - Reply

    I’m surprised you didn’t mention Things in Jars by Jess Kidd as a read-alike!

    • brc-admin
      June 18, 2021 at 10:58 pm  - Reply

      I don’t know that one. We’ve only just discovered Jess Kidd – Laura read Himself, and then recommended it to me, we both loved it. Things in Jars looks intriguing – good to have an excuse to read another one of hers – Kate

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