Monique Roffey: Conjuring the Spirit of the Caribbean
The Mermaid of Black Conch is an adventurous novel set on a Caribbean island, deploying magic realism to tell very real truths about the region and its history of colonisation and slavery. We are thrilled to welcome its author to the Festival to talk about her book and the setting that inspired it. Monique Roffey won this year’s Costa Book of the Year award for The Mermaid of Black Conch, her story of a mermaid rescued by a young fisherman after being pulled from the sea by tourists.
The mermaid’s name is Aycayia, and she is the spirit of a young woman from the indigenous Taino people of the Black Conch Island. Most Taino people were slaughtered by Europeans, and Aycayia has been banished to the sea on account of her ‘irksome beauty’. It is a vibrant novel that portrays love affairs as well as ancient hatreds cascading down from a history of colonisation. Join Roffey for a journey into her uniquely original but emphatically Caribbean world.
The Caribbean has long been a place that forces us to rethink stories we thought we knew, from The Wide Sargasso Sea, Jean Rhyss’s take on Jane Eyre, to Omeros, Derek Walcott’s epic rewriting of Homer.
The book that has most opened my eyes this year is Monique Roffey’s The Mermaid of Black Conch, a novel that is as much a reimagining of Pygmalion as a riff on the arrival of the disruptive stranger that changes a community beyond all imagining – but more.
Described as a “fishy tale of doomed womanhood”, the Costa Book of the Year in 2020 tells of a mermaid who tries to put the sea behind her and the fisherman who snares her and tries to save her. It’s about music, love, loss, and coming to terms with slavery – and it’s the most erotic novel I’ve read in many years. You can’t say more than that: The Mermaid of Black Conch is a magical miracle.