A modern-day expansion of Hans Christian Andersen’s The Little Mermaid, this unforgettable debut novel weaves a spellbinding tale of magic and the power of love as a descendent of the original mermaid fights the terrible price of saving herself from a curse that has affected generations of women in her family.
Kathleen has always been dramatic. She suffers from the bizarre malady of experiencing stabbing pain in her feet. On her sixteenth birthday, she woke screaming from the sensation that her tongue had been cut out. No doctor can find a medical explanation for her pain, and even the most powerful drugs have proven useless. Only the touch of seawater can ease her pain, and just temporarily at that.
Now Kathleen is a twenty-five-year-old opera student in Boston and shows immense promise as a soprano. Her girlfriend Harry, a mezzo in the same program, worries endlessly about Kathleen's phantom pain and obsession with the sea. Kathleen's mother and grandmother both committed suicide as young women, and Harry worries they suffered from the same symptoms. When Kathleen suffers yet another dangerous breakdown, Harry convinces Kathleen to visit her hometown in Ireland to learn more about her family history.
In Ireland, they discover that the mystery—and the tragedy—of Kathleen’s family history is far older and stranger than they could have imagined. Kathleen’s fate seems sealed, and the only way out is a terrible choice between a mermaid’s two sirens—the sea, and her lover. But both choices mean death…
Haunting and lyrical, The Mermaid’s Daughter asks—how far we will go for those we love? And can the transformative power of music overcome a magic that has prevailed for generations?
From the Author:
I am sitting with a cluster of college students who have come to hear me talk about writing. What they want to know is why, when you could write about anything you wanted to write about, make up any story you chose, would you choose to retell a familiar fairy tale?
The source story for my novel The Mermaid’s Daughter is Hans Christian Andersen’s “Little Mermaid,” in which the main character literally turns herself into a different kind of woman for the man she loves. She subjects herself to silence and endures excruciating physical pain to be with him, but when he betrays her, she forgives him utterly. I didn’t set out to retell this fairy tale, exactly. I set out to break it open. I can only hope I succeeded.
But that’s ducking the question: Why fairy tales?
Part of my answer does have to be the quintessential advice to writers: “Write what you know.” I know fairy tales the way some people know cars and others know computers and my teenager knows the names and stats of all the players on the Steelers roster. I know fairy tale like a fan, like a fanatic (that’s where the word “fan” from, after all), like a lover, like a believer. I don’t just know the “big ones—“Cinderella,” “Snow White,” “Sleeping Beauty.” I know “Dapplegrim” and “Little King Lot.” I could tell you about a baby who shimmered in his mother’s arms between hedgehog and human, about a betrayed princesses whose only friend was the severed head of her own horse, nailed to a barn door.
I know fairy tales so well that I kind of can’t help but write them.
Some of the students to whom I tell this much look a little alarmed (fans can be off-putting; we all know that.) Others look intrigued.
Good. Someone is going to google “Hans my Hedgehog” later. Maybe I’ll have made a convert.
But I still haven’t fully answered the question.
Why fairy tales?
Some fairy tales contain magic—magical items, magical creatures, magic users with wands and cauldrons and too much time on their hands. Some tales don’t—there’s nothing explicitly magical in Little Red Riding Hood or Hansel and Gretel. But all fairy tales are bursting with the impossible made possible. Shoes made of glass, men trapped as beasts or frogs, houses made of gingerbread.
Wishes that come true.
I write fairy tales because I long for the impossible to be possible. I long for it every day. Sometimes I just want more sleep or less laundry or dear God, not another two-hour delay, not on a day when I have wall-to-wall meetings. Sometimes I want to have dinner with my brother, but that’s impossible because he lives 3000 miles away. I frequently want to call my mother, but that’s impossible. She died 12 years ago.
We stumble over the impossible every day, bang our heads into it and don’t even notice how sore we feel. But fairy tales—fairy tales take the impossible, break it open, and give us back possibilities we never imagined.
So I wrote a book that turned a fairy tale on its head.
When I shook it out, I found a lot of impossible things that suddenly I had made possible. Witches. Seals that shed their skins and turned into men. Music that transformed.
And that, in the end, is why I write fairy tales.
The Mermaid's Daughter is on sale now in trade paperback. Start reading an excerpt and order your copy here.