Friday, June 10, 2011

The Mermaids Singing - Prime Example of "Do As I Say, Not As I Do"

The Mermaids Singing by Lisa Carey is a book that my mother recommended to me. Though my mother and I typically have different reading interests, I'm always willing to give new / different things a try : - ) To start things off, I just wanted to share the beautiful poem at the start of this book:

Girl Reading by Charles Edward Perugini


WHEN you are old and gray and full of sleep
  And nodding by the fire, take down this book,
  And slowly read, and dream of the soft look
Your eyes had once, and of their shadows deep;
How many loved your moments of glad grace,         5
  And loved your beauty with love false or true;
  But one man loved the pilgrim soul in you,
And loved the sorrows of your changing face.
And bending down beside the glowing bars,
  Murmur, a little sadly, how love fled  10
  And paced upon the mountains overhead,
And hid his face amid a crowd of stars

~William Butler Yeats




Is that not some amazing imagery?? Love that.  Now about the book. Not a bad read overall, pretty definitive chick-lit though, which is not typically my genre. I don't generally go for that whole "a group of ladies take a trip to the beach, bitch about their husbands and unruly, disrespectful children and 'find' themselves in the process" kind of book. Good thing this is not that - not totally anyway.  The Mermaids Singing  by Lisa Carey is the story of three generations of women and how the choices and mistakes of one woman can have the trickle effect on the rest of her family. 

Lisa Carey
It amazed me that no one seemed to learn anything from the experiences of those around them! In fact, each woman screws up her life in her own special way:

1) Irish-Catholic, unmarried Cliona (the 1st generation) as a young woman has one wild, frisky night and gets knocked up, essentially (in her mind anyway) destroying her chances to attend nursing school ( I believe this part of the story takes place in late 40s/early 50s).

2) Her daughter, Grace, grows up to really feel ... I'm not sure if it's hate or resentment she feels toward her mother.. but she's just all over unpleasant toward her mother and in spite starts fooling around with the son of her mother's boss and SURPRISE gets knocked up herself

3)Grainne (pronounced Gran-nya) - MINI-SPOILER ALERT:  ***baby #2 for Grace, the pregnancy from the boss's son ends in miscarriage*** - grows up to be a sad, quiet fifteen year old who has to watch her mother battle breast cancer (Grace's battle with cancer is what the book opens with) and is unfortunately left to figure out her teenage years and budding sexuality without the benefit of a mother OR a father to help explain it to her. She, thankfully, doesn't get knocked up but through grief does work her way into a bad case of anorexia. 


Grainne is named after the Irish pirate-queen Granuaile, more commonly known in the U.S. by the name Grace O'Malley. Grainne is a truncated version of the name (click on name to read history of this bold woman!).


A stained glass work of Grace O'Malley

Grace O'Malley's tower on Achill Island, Ireland

Grainne in the beginning of the book is living in Boston, MA with her mother and has no memory of her father.  After losing her mother (again, described in opening chapters), Grainne is sent to live with Grandma Cliona in Ireland, who breaks it to her that Grainne's long-lost father lives on the same Inis Muruch (Island of the Mermaids) as Cliona. Grainne is told that she herself lived with her mother and father on the island until the age of three when her mother ran off with her to the U.S. Grainne replies, "I didn't even know my mother was Irish." REALLY?? As the reader, you're told that Grace was born and raised on this remote island in Ireland, generations of Irish family around her, so I'm guessing she had a nice, native accent going. She then marries a local boy, also heavily accented I'm assuming, and her own daughter was there until the age of 3... what happened to the accent? Did she just drop it for the rest of her life?? That seems like a good deal of unneccessary covering up.  Oh yeah, and the name Grainne?? Girl never wondered why her mother had such a pull toward a name nearly impossible to mispronounce everywhere except Ireland? This seemed like a flub in the plot to me, but then this was Carey's first published novel released in 1999.


Grace pretty much hunts down Seamus, nearly forcing herself on him. Lucky for her, he's a few years older than her and a real man in that he doesn't feel the need to rush or force anything even if he's feeling an attraction just as much as her. Imagine if he was the type to take an offer and run with it, take it too far to the point of being dangerously aggressive?? Sometimes, people just don't think!

When he feels the timing is more appropriate, Seamus succumbs and ... drumroll.... and gets Grace pregnant..  which she seems surprised by! Girl, he's IRISH, c'mon!! Grace reluctantly, VERY reluctantly, agrees to get married but after a few years of domesticity has an intense  moment of "I have wings and I need to fly" so she leaves for the U.S. assuming the man she married (who she was madly in love with btw) would follow. Over the years, I've noticed that guys typically don't like to chase - seems to be a pride thing - or at least a "enough with the head games!" thing lol. Grace's husband Seamus (LOVE that name!) was of this variety and left her in Boston which for some reason she got all ticked off about and decided to start telling her daughter dad left them.. .world's best mom material there... 



Sirens / Mermaids and the mythology and mystery around them play a large part in the story. In fact, Seamus, early in his marriage to Grace, often acts as if she is a mermaid and jokes about her slipping back to sea one day, but inwardly always knows it's only a matter of time before she leaves.


Once Grace's daughter, Grainne moves to Inis Muruch, she is also immersed in this environment full of a mix of fables, mysticism, and a healthy dose of hardcore Irish-Catholicism. Grainne begins to see herself as a form of Granuaile, the pirate queen, or the sirens that are said to take down the fishing boats (or more specifically, the men who work the boats).  

The Siren by John William Waterhouse

The Siren by Howard Pyle

The Fisherman And The Siren by Lord Leighton





According to legend, those naughty sirens are said to call to sailors and fishermen with haunting music and then drag them down to their undersea lair where the men are drowned in the process of being seduced!

"OOOhhhoooo here she comes... she's a maneata... WATCH OUT BOY, she'll chew ya up! "
   * lyrics courtesy of Hall & Oates :- ) *

Where are they hanging out that has chlorine in the ocean??



But ya know, while I was reading this, I couldn't help but be reminded of the movie Secret of Roan Inish, which is also based on the mysteries and legends of the mermaids - or more specifically, seal-ladies known as selkies (similar myths surrounding them). MUST SEE movie btw - gorgeous!!




In general, the book is a nice, easy read with enough mythology to keep the story interesting and the plot moving along. I wouldn't be surprised if this one gets turned into a movie sometime in the future, particularly since I read that several of Carey's stories have already been optioned for movie rights (though no mention if this was one of them). The moody, misty quality of this story would make a great rainy day read!


Siren by Jade Bengco

View more of Jade's work here!