ELIJAH’S MERMAID by Essie Fox (A Book Review by Lisa Harrison) – Lisa Harrison (Facebook)
I really wanted to like Elijah’s Mermaid – from the moment I saw it, it looked like a slice of Vic Lit heaven, the cover itself is beautiful to behold, and the description had me hooked from the get-go. Here’s a snippet of what was promised …
Saved from the Thames one foggy London night, Pearl grows up at the House of Mermaids – a brothel that becomes the closest thing to home. But despite being cosseted and spoiled by the Madame, come her 14th year, Pearl is to be sold to the highest bidder.
Orphaned twins Lily and Elijah are on a rare trip to London when they meet the ethereal Pearl. And the repercussions of this chance encounter will bind all their fates together, in a dark and dangerous way.
Bewitching, gothic and sensual, this is a tale of love and betrayal in a world where nothing is quite as it seems.
So far, so hooked, I couldn’t wait to dive once more into the murky depths of Victorian London (I’m something of a Vic lit addict) so I found a cosy corner and settled in. At first it was good, a bit slow in pace but kind of fascinating, some really gripping descriptions of life in a brothel, some nice characterisation. I felt sure that at any minute this hansom cab was going to pick up pace and canter to the finish, but it was sadly not to be. The pace seemed to slow down if anything, I stopped caring about any of the characters, I found myself going (shock, horror) days without picking it back up and it almost became a personal battle to see it off.
This puzzled me because on paper (or kindle if you prefer your books not to smell of books) this had all the ingredients I’d ever wanted, Victoriana, drama, dark gothic settings, art, seedy-ness, mermaids, and yet it just never really seemed to do it for me. Having read a few of Sarah Waters’ books, which always keep me up late at night, I felt there was an indefinable something missing.
I can pinpoint some nit-picky things, for example the chapters are told from the point of view of the main characters (Pearl, the ‘mermaid’ and Lily the conformist ‘heroine’). When Pearl tells her side of things she tends to lurch from talking like Audrey Hepburn in My Fair Lady to adopting an altogether more ‘well-bred’ tone. And some parts on female sexuality seem a bit shoehorned in – I don’t want to add any plot spoilers, but one of the characters gets to know herself a bit better at the end of a chapter and it feels as if we’re meant to be shocked, but it just seems a bit pointless.
What Essie Fox does really well is highlight the plight of women at this time – the fairer sex seemed to be labelled as mad if they did so much as step outside the door without a chaperone, and it was a useful tool for men to do away with their wives when no longer required, just stick her in an asylum.
What is also interesting is art and the role of the muse, there is a photo of John William Waterhouse’s The Mermaid at the front of the book, which I guess is to help the reader draw parallels between the villain of the piece and the artists of the day who would put their chosen muses through hours of suffering to capture their images only to be cast aside when they were no longer young or nubile enough to pass muster.
For me, the main problem with the book is pace, it didn’t feel like a real page-turner and I could guess at plot developments before they happened – I think we’ve been spoilt with Victoriana lately and the barrel seems to be running dry. That said, Essie Fox’s previous book The Somnambulist was wonderfully riveting gothic read so I hope she continues to explore this genre.
Unfortunately this time her mermaid turned out to be a bit of a ‘meh’-maid.