The Mermaids Singing

( 19 )


There is an island off the west coast of Ireland called Inis Murúch — theIsland of the Mermaids — a world where myth is more powerful than truth, and love can overcome even death. It is here that Lisa Carey sets her lyrical and sensual first novel, weaving together the voices and lives of three generations of Irish and Irish-American women.

Years ago, the fierce and beautiful Grace stole away from the island with her small daughter, Gráinne, unable to bear its isolation. Now ...

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There is an island off the west coast of Ireland called Inis Murúch — theIsland of the Mermaids — a world where myth is more powerful than truth, and love can overcome even death. It is here that Lisa Carey sets her lyrical and sensual first novel, weaving together the voices and lives of three generations of Irish and Irish-American women.

Years ago, the fierce and beautiful Grace stole away from the island with her small daughter, Gráinne, unable to bear its isolation. Now Gráinne is motherless at fifteen, and a grandmother she has never met has come to take her back. Her heart is pulled between a life in which she no longer belongs and a family she cannot remember. But only on Inis Murúch can she begin to understand the forces that have torn her family apart.

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers
Lisa Carey isn't the first writer to be fascinated by the recurring cycles of misunderstanding and rebellion that imprint themselves upon a family's history like self-fulfilling prophecies, nor is she likely to be the last. But judging by her gorgeous and affecting debut novel, she's certainly one of the best. Moving between Ireland and America from the 1950s to the present day, The Mermaids Singing is the story of three strong-willed, passionate women beset by generational conflict, their destinies mystically entwined with the sea and Celtic legend.

In her youth, proud, practical Clíona leaves Ireland to work as an au pair in Boston, planning to save her money and train as a nurse, then return to her sea-swept island of Inis Murúch — the Isle of Mermaids. But her modest plans are interrupted by an unexpected pregnancy, and Clíona finds herself stranded in America, raising her daughter, Grace, in the home of her employer. In the wake of tragedy, Clíona and her 15-year-old daughter return at last to Ireland. But isolated Inis Murúch can never be home for Americanized Grace, and out of desperation, she steals away with her young daughter, Gráinne, abandoning the husband she passionately loves for the freedom she loves even more. Now, following her mother's death fromcancer,15-year-old Gráinne finds herself repeating the journey her mother was forced to make years before, returning to Inis Murúch with the grandmother she didn't know she had, in the hope of finding the father she has never known.

This bare-bones synopsis seems straightforward enough — ambitious perhaps, for a first novel. But don't expect to find anything merely "straightforward" in The Mermaids Singing; Carey divides the narrative equally among these three complex, vividly realized women, diverting the plot's linear progression to accommodate a wealth of personal reflections. Through these seamless digressions the reader becomes privy to each character's hidden motivations and revealing inner monologues. Grace, first seen wraithlike and exhausted in the final stages of cancer, haunts the book through her third-person recollections. Yet even from this ghostly remove, her fierce independence and brazen sexuality smolder on the page. Despite her stoicism and emotional reserve, Clíona reveals a surprisingly adventurous past and a passionate desire to give Gráinne the love and family her own daughter rejected. Gráinne, herself reduced to bare bones by grief, experiences a profound catharsis as she overcomes the hurt and resentment brought on by her mother's death to experience at last a sense of belonging.

The images of the sea that flow throughout the novel link past and present as the ancient myths and legends of Ireland are played out anew. Time and again, Gráinne's life uncannily mirrors that of her namesake, the pirate queen of Inis Murúch, Gráinne Ní Mhaille. Daughter and wife of two 16th-century Connaught chieftains, Queen Gráinne mastered her grief after their deaths to rule both kingdoms, commanding respect on land and sea as no woman before her. Since childhood, Gráinne has set an extra place at the table out of respect for the pirate queen without really understanding why. Now, having navigated her own sea of unfathomable loss to experience the redemptive powers of family and love, she too finds safe harbor on Inis Murúch.

Washington Post
A wonderfully, vividly written account of the love. . .between mothers and daughters. . .illuminates the ways that love fails us andthen, as we are about to sink, reaches out and sets us back afloat.
A well woven and beautifully lyrical story of three powerful women.
New York Magazine
Mermaids combines the flinty Ireland of Angela's Ashes...and the long-delayed reunion of lost loves of Cold Mountain. You're sighing sympathetically before the end of the first chapter. Carey's three heroines'...stories are skillfully woven together by the watery Celtic mythology of life on Inis Mururch.
Boston Globe
Mingling myth and motherhood, and jumping generations and continents...Lisa Carey has created a magical first novel.
Three generations of Irish women reconcile past and present in this ethereal debut.
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
This impressive first novel spans three generations of women and two continents while addressing several complex issues related to mother-daughter relationships, spiritual displacement and cultural identity. In the 1950s, teenage Clona leaves her home, a small island on the west coast of Ireland called Inis Murch (the Island of Mermaids), and emigrates to America where, while planning to study to be a nurse, she works as a maid for a Boston family. An unwanted pregnancy thwarts her career plans and proves the first of several such events in this novel. Grace, Clona's daughter, grows up in America but returns to the island as a teenager, experiencing as much trauma in arriving on the isle as her mother did in leaving it. Rejecting her mother's homeland, Grace returns to the U.S. with her own daughter, Grinne, and cuts all family ties. But patterns are repeated generationally like waves on each respective Atlantic shore, and the links with the past prove binding. In a sensual story of first loves, fatal decisions and alienation, Carey skillfully infuses her heroines with individual generational traits while lending them the same dreamsof mermaids and the ancient pirate queen after whom both daughters are named. Through the alternating voices of Clona, Grace and Grinne, we eventually understand the special and distinctive burdens each generation bears, as well as the repetitious tricks of fate that have driven them apart. Though the novel suffers from a certain schematic rigidity and a tendency toward melodrama, it is, in Carey's skilled hands, an absorbing story.
Library Journal
Reader Jan Maxwell's voice brings Carey's story of three generations of women to life. Grandmother Cliona, who initially sailed from Inis Muruch in Ireland to Boston; daughter Grace; and granddaughter Grainne form the three voices whose lives move back and forth from Boston to the small, entrancing island. Alongside their haunting stories of pain, longing, isolation, and death runs the leitmotif of the mermaid myth. Maxwell's shift from lilting Irish speech to American accent adds a lovely dimension to the slight narrative, elevating a rather predictable story to a pleasant listening experience. --Barbara Valle, El Paso Public Library, Texas
Library Journal
Fifteen-year-old Boston-born Grinne Malley's whole world is spinning. Her 33-year-old mother has just died of breast cancer. Her mother's boyfriend, whom Grinne adores, has told her that she cannot stay with him. And out of nowhere, a middle-aged woman has arrived, telling Grinne that she is her maternal grandmother and has come to America to take her to a remote island called Inis Murch, located off the coast of Ireland. Oddly, Grinne had not known that she had a grandmother or any other family. In fact, throughout her childhood her mother had refused to tell her anything about her kin. Unraveling her mother's past and coming to terms with history is heady, if often confusing, stuff for Grinne, and first- novelist Carey writes of the process with sensitivity and compassion. Told in the voices of three generations of feisty but very different women, her novel weaves intricate Irish myths into an emotionally complex and powerfully affecting narrative. She explores the multiple meanings of motherhood, sexuality, life, death, redemption, and individual choice with grace and passion. An exceptional debut by a bold new writer. -- Eleanor J. Bader, New School for Social Research, New York
School Library Journal
YA-Complex and heady, this novel focuses on three generations of Irish/Irish-American women. The fluid narrative shifts among years and the voices of its compelling characters. Cl ona's story is both past and present, memory and chronicle. She is a strong woman who understands that life is made up of mistakes and compromises, and that no two people see things the same way. Grace, her daughter, is wild, willful, and promiscuous, unable to commit herself to anyone but her daughter, Gr inne. Gr inne is seeking her place in a world she doesn't quite trust. Although Grace dies at the beginning of the book, her presence is felt throughout; Gr inne must come to terms with the beloved mother who deceived her about her past, and Grace herself narrates the chapters about her rebellious youth. Cl ona struggles to bond with her granddaughter as she failed to with her daughter. This involving intergenerational saga looks at challenges and misunderstandings, connections made and broken, family lost and found. Teens will empathize with Gr inne as she tries to come to terms with her mother's death and her own life.-Susan Salpini, Kings Park Library, Burke, VA
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780380815593
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 11/28/2001
  • Series: Harper Perennial
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 288
  • Sales rank: 1,018,862
  • Product dimensions: 5.31 (w) x 8.00 (h) x 0.64 (d)

Meet the Author

Lisa Carey is the author of The Mermaids Singing, In the Country of the Young, and Love in the Asylum. She lived in Ireland for five years and now resides in Portland, Maine, with her husband and their son.

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Read an Excerpt

The Mermaids Singing

Chapter One


It is only at night now that she has the strength to wander. Rising quietly, so as not to disturb her lover, Grace pulls a sweater over her pajamas, slips her feet into running sneakers. Stephen had bought her the sneakers to wear in the hospital after she refused to put on the regulation blue foam slippers. She is not a runner but she likes the height of them, the curve of the soles which roll her forward like a boat lifted by waves. She wraps a scarf around her gruesome bald head.

She passes through the cottage quickly, without looking at the tacky furniture -- leftovers from someone else's life. Stephen had rented this place so Grace could be near the sea. Sometimes she calls it "the hospice," in an attempt to be the blunt, witty sort of dying person she would like to be.

She goes first to the water, down the damp sand and over to the barnacle rocks, which she climbs gingerly, still surprised by the weakness of her limbs. She wants to stand on the rocks, dive into the cold water and swim the pain away, but she can only sit, watching the moonshine catch the waves, feeling the salty damp seep into her clothing and skin, breathing it; it is thick and familiar in her damaged lungs.

The sea does not speak to her in the daytime. When Stephen manages to coerce her into a walk, the sunlight, harsh on her yellowed skin, distracts her. The beach feels dangerous with Stephen, because of the way he clings to her elbow, guiding her over shells and rocks, assuring that the foamy tide does not wash against her fragile ankles. On these walks she feels like a captive, like a creature held just out of reach of herwatery home. She wants to shake him off, as passionately as she used to want to creep into his body because his hands on her skin were not enough. She hides the impulse to push him away, tells herself it is the cancer that makes her feel this repulsion. Though it is not the first time she has felt like a prisoner.

On the nights she escapes, the sea becomes hers again; the rhythm of the waves aligns itself with the thrust and ebb of her heart. She looks over the silver water and imagines another beach across the Atlantic, an Irish shore, the landscape a mirror reflection of this one. There, the wind in the coves was a chorus of the island mermaids, who moaned with the hopes of capturing a sympathetic man. She used to swim there, that moan in her blood, longing to leave. Now, though she has been gone from Ireland for twelve years, it is appearing to her, dropping in heavy folds, swallowing her present life. She thinks how odd it is, that the strongest convictions, like possessions, can lose all meaning when you are dying. Everything that she thought she was about has slipped from her, and the things she never wanted are clinging to her memory like the seaweed in the crevices at her feet.

Her mind is a collage of faces. She sees her mother, whose early wrinkles looked like crevices in rock, whose mouth was constantly clamped in a stern line, who always fought to keep her face expressionless. Grace hated that blank face, she raged to get it to register something -- even anger -- anything. Now she misses her mother, longs for her like a lonely child. But she escaped from that face and it's too late now, she believes, to ask for it back.

Another face her husband's, an Irish man. Though she has spent several years trying to erase him from her memory, his features come back to her in perfect detail; he glows like a stubborn ghost when she closes her eyes. She wonders why she ever left, why she can't remember what went wrong between them. He was kind, she knows. Had that not been enough? It means more to her now, kindness.

When she feels her body crawling toward sleep, far too soon, she goes back to the cottage, slips into its silence. She opens a bedroom door, checks on her daughter -- a teenager who sleeps like a child, her limbs sprawled, mouth gaping, the sheets twisted like vines around her ankles. The glinting black curls on the pillow are her father's. At one time, Grace might have righted the bedding, smoothed the masses of hair away from her daughter's face. But tonight she only stands there, afraid of waking her. They avoid each other now, these two, as intensely as they once clung together.

She closes the door, walks across the dark living room. At a table in the corner she sits, switching on a miniature desk lamp. There is an old typewriter here, a stack of crisp white paper beside it. She winds a sheet through, and types out a note, flinching at the sound of keys, like gunshots in the night.

Gráinne, she types.

Please pick up cereal and matches if you pass by the G. S. today. If you have any clothes that need washing -- and you must by now, kiddo, unless you plan to keep wearing those stinking jeans -- give them to Stephen, he's going to the laundromat.

--Love, Mom

She props the note on the refrigerator with a lobster-shaped magnet. She doesn't know why she continues to compose these strange communications, why she cannot say anything she really feels. She wants to ask her daughter if she's all right, wants to know what she does all day and half the night when she's away from the cottage. But Grace has lost the ability to ask anything. Once, she had prided herself on speaking bluntly, honestly to her daughter. Only recently has she admitted that she's been lying all along. She lied by never telling . . .

The Mermaids Singing. Copyright © by Lisa Carey. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
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Interviews & Essays

On Friday, June 5th, welcomed Lisa Carey to discuss THE MERMAIDS SINGING.

Moderator: Welcome, Lisa Carey! Thank you for joining us online this evening. How is everything in Boston?

Lisa Carey: Boston is great. I have only been here for 24 hours and am about to leave soon. My parents are having a party for the publication of my book, and I am expecting 200 people.

Peter from New York: Was there sexual tension between Grinne and Stephen, or was I misreading all that? If so, what made you decide to go in that direction with the characters...or not go any further?

Lisa Carey: Well, there was a sexual tension between them. I think that I decided to do this because I needed something for Grinne to focus on while she was avoiding the issue of her mother, and her mother's sexuality was always something she admired. I decided to have her have a crush on Stephen because it related to her mother. From Stephens point of view, he was younger than her and slightly attracted but slightly horrified because she was so young. I didn't take it any further because she went off to Ireland and he wasn't there, and I thought it was better to leave it unresolved rather than sort of fix it.

Tara from Philadelphia: I love the Yeats poem you have at the beginning of the book. I'm curious as to what made you include it.

Lisa Carey: Yeats has always been my favorite poet, and there are two reasons I put it in. One, it always made me think of my grandmother -- who I dedicated the book to. Two, when I was looking through things I had up as possibilities for being put at the beginning of the book, that poem said a lot about the relationship between Grace and Grinne and even Grinne and her grandmother.

Marnie Lanke from Houston: How long did it take for you to write this? There are so many different parts woven together. Did it start out as any one piece of the whole, or did you always have the entire idea in your mind?

Lisa Carey: It started out as a short story, a short story about a 15-year-old girl whose mother was dying of cancer, and they were writing notes back and forth with each other.... I was in an MFA program and I had done three semesters of short stories, and my goal had always been to write a novel before I finished the program and I wanted to go to Ireland. I basically went to Ireland with that short story because it was the only one I thought I needed to write more about. I spent four months thinking about my novel but not writing it. By the end, I decided to have three different women. When I started writing, I wrote the rough draft in about four months and then I did the rewrite, so the whole process took about a year.

Bryan Sullivan from Aurora, CO: I recently read your book and I was very impressed. I am curious if you'd care to say a word about the current state of political affairs in Ireland and England.

Lisa Carey: Thank you for reading it and being impressed. Because I am a writer and not up on most political situations other than Ireland (which I have studied), I had originally wanted to address the issues of Northern Ireland in my book. Then I decided that it was such a complicated issue. I am very happy that they passed the very recent referendum, which had to be voted in the Republic of Ireland as well as Northern Ireland, and I think they are getting closer to a compromise than they have ever gotten in the problems between England and Ireland. I think because it has been in the news a lot lately, many people see things from one point of view, and it is actually a lot more complicated than that. To say one side is right and the other wrong is not looking at the whole picture. What they are doing now is making everybody compromise. There has been 30 years of bloodshed because they wouldn't give an inch, so I am hopeful.

James from Akron, OH: What a fantastic cover! How much influence did you get in the design of the final book cover? Or did they not give you much say because you are a first-time novelist?

Lisa Carey: They asked for my input, and they came up with six different designs of the cover and chose the one they liked best. They took my suggestion, but they didn't use it; they compromised and used some images from the painting that I wanted. They gave me more input than I heard most authors have.

Danika Byrne from New York: How did you "get inside" the minds of your characters in such a believable way?

Lisa Carey: That is hard for me to answer, because I am glad and flattered that you think it is a believable way, but when I was writing it I wasn't sure. When people ask me how I write about people older than me and people who I don't know much about, the answer is by reading a lot. When you read a lot, you develop an ability to make readers like and believe your characters. During the writing process of the book, I didn't do anything but write this book, 12 hours a day. I was living the lives of my characters, and it was better than if I were to just write two hours a day.

Ilona from Miami: Your book made me so emotional. I just wondered if there was any one experience or person in your life that inspired this story.

Lisa Carey: No, there wasn't one person or experience. It is a fictional story, so it isn't based on any people or events in my life, but the sum of my personal experiences added to the book. I was living in Ireland as a foreigner and trying to go through everyday life there and settle in, and I fell in love with the country and felt in touch many times, yet felt out of place many times as well. That is one of the themes of the book -- moving around and settling in. And that influenced me.

Jayanth from India: How did you work out the seemingly complex narrative, which involves three main characters?

Lisa Carey: First I can say that I decided to write the book from three different points of view because I had never written a novel before and I thought I might not have enough to say from one voice. Once I settled on the three voices I wrote it from the beginning to the end. I would write a chapter from one point of view, stop switch my view and write from another point of view. By doing this I was able to get all three characters reacting to the same themes and situations.

Aileen from San Francisco, CA: Would you say Ireland -- the land and history -- was your primary influence behind this book?

Lisa Carey: Yes.

Larry Weissman from New York, NY: Lisa, I loved your novel. I've read that you spent a lot of time living on islands. Can you tell me what attracts you to island life?

Lisa Carey: I've always been attracted to island life because in some way they are like miniature countries, in that you can go to them and learn about a culture and a way of speaking that they won't have on the mainland. They are also limited in their resources. I think that islands don't have the distractions of city life and small-town life. Without the distractions of everyday life, I have a better environment for me to write in. If you'd like to know more about my experience with island life, you can read an essay that I wrote, on the literary magazine Bold Type (

Jossie from NYC: If you knew what you know now back before you got published, what would you have done differently on the road to getting published? Any pearls of wisdom you could drop to an aspiring author?

Lisa Carey: I think that having an agent was the best thing that ever happened to me, so badger all of your author friends for their agents numbers. The experience of publishing a book is a lot different than what I thought. It is also a lot more work than I thought. It has been almost a full-time job since I wrote the book. My advice would be to write five books before you get anything publishing. Also, the MFA program I did was great. It definitely helps your writing and will give you contacts for when you want to get published.

Catherine Wiley from Lancaster, PA: How much time have you spent in Ireland?

Lisa Carey: I have spent about four months of every one of the past four years living in Ireland. And I am about to go back in July.

Paul from Good evening, Ms. Carey. Were you worried or nervous when you decided to quit your job to go to Ireland to start this book?

Lisa Carey: Yes! I was quite nervous. What I actually did was, I took a leave of absence from my job, and I sort of put myself out on a limb to write this book. I was working in a bookstore and was not making too much money, and for my MFA program I had a bunch of loans. I then took out more loan money to finance my trip to Ireland, and I was hoping I would eventually get published and make the money back. But when you are an artist you have to take risks, because otherwise you will never do it.

Jayanth from India: Do you make elaborate notes of people around you? How do you shape your characters?

Lisa Carey: I do make elaborate notes of people around me, specifically in Ireland. I wrote down anything that anybody said that I thought sounded interesting, because I wanted to write from an Irish voice. My characters usually start from a very small idea that either comes from an actual person or a story I have heard or my imagination, then once I start writing them, they become who they are. I don't know who they are when they begin. Sometimes they surprise me in what they end up doing.

Nicole from Sudbury, MA: If you had to do it over again, do you think an MFA is a necessity to becoming a great published author?

Lisa Carey: I don't think it is a necessity for everyone, but it was the best thing for me. I don't think I would change anything -- things have been going pretty well for me. Writing is a very difficult thing to commit yourself to. Most people think of it as a hobby, and it doesn't normally help to pay the bills. I am not a self-disciplined person, and I needed the structure of school to be able to challenge myself. But that is not the same for everyone.

Pam from Kent, Connecticut: Any advice for young writers?

Lisa Carey: My ultimate advice for young writers is to read. I spent more time reading novels than I do writing fiction. Most people, when asked this question, would tell me to write everyday. I am the exception. I don't have stuff to write about every day, so I don't write everyday, and I won't give those pearls of wisdom that I was always told. But for some it does work. You should always challenge yourself by writing about the kind of thing you thought you would never write about. A lot of people say you should write what you know, which is true, but you should also write about things you think you don't know about. This helps you form a better detail to your writing. It makes you a better writer, writing from the point of view of someone you don't completely understand.

Andrea Giery from San Francisco: I loved your book so much. I've told everyone I know about it. Are you working on another novel?

Lisa Carey: Thank you for supporting my book. I was working on another novel, which I put on hold for my book tour. When I write I have to have no distractions, so hopefully soon I will be able to get back to the book. I am superstitious, so I don't tell people what it is about, but it does have a bit of Ireland in it, a little hint....

Moderator: Thank you once again for joining us tonight, Lisa Carey, and congratulations on your debut! Before you go, do you have any last words for your online audience?

Lisa Carey: First I would like to thank everybody for taking the time to write in. It has been a very flattering hour, because I am talking to so many people I don't know who have read my book. The reason writers want to get published is so other people will read them. The reason I decided to become a writer is so I could touch people's lives in the way books have touched mine, and it makes me happy to see that I am doing it a little bit. The only other thing I would like to mention is that, in addition to Bold Type, I would suggest the Bard page online (, and then there is a bookstore in Galway, which is where I used to live, which is the best Irish bookstore in the world. Desmond Kenny, the owner, will talk to you, and if you are interested in Irish fiction and nonfiction, he will put together packages for you. They are books that you can't get outside of Ireland. I have received a new package from Desmond every month now. He is online at

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Reading Group Guide

About this Guide
The questions, author biography, and reading list that follow are intended to enhance your group's discussion of Lisa Carey's THE MERMAIDS SINGING. We hope they provide you with fresh ways of looking at this extraordinary novel.

About this Book
Somewhere off the west coast of Ireland lies Inis Murúch-the Island of the Mermaids-a world where myth is more powerful that truth and where the sea sings with the healing and haunting voices of women. It is here that Lisa Carey sets her lyrical first novel, weaving together the voices and lives of three generations of Irish and Irish-American women.

Years ago, Clíona-strong, proud, and practical-sailed for Boston, determined to one day come home. But when the time came to return to Inis Murúch, her daughter Grace-fierce, beautiful, and brazenly sexual-resented her mother's isolated, unfamiliar world. Though entranced by the sea and its healing powers, Grace became desperate to escape the confines of the island, one day stealing away with her small daughter Graínne.

Now Graínne-motherless at fifteen after Grace's death-is about to be taken back across the ocean by Clíona, repeating the journey her mother was forced to make years before. She goes to meet a father she has never known, her heart pulled between a life where she no longer belongs and a family she cannot remember. On the rocky shore of Inis Murúch, she waits for her father and begins to discover her own sexual identity even as she struggles to understand the forces that have torn her family apart.

Praise for this Book
"What a rich story this is-part contemporary novel, dealingskillfully with the relationship of mother and daughter; part fairy tale, with its gorgeous myth; and part allegory, with a lesson about forgiveness of others as well as ourselves." -Elizabeth Berg

"Lisa Carey's extraordinary first novel has it all-Ireland, myth, romance, sex appeal, and three generations of quirky, powerful, and passionate women . . . Carey is an immensely gifted writer." -Douglas Glover

"In a sensual story of first loves, fatal decisions and alienation, Carey skillfully infuses her heroines with individual generational traits while lending them the same dreams-of mermaids and the ancient pirate queen after whom both daughters are named . . . an absorbing story." -Publishers Weekly

Questions for Discussion
1. The names Clíona, Grace, and Graínne are unique and meaningful. To what extent are each of their names appropriate for them? What role does naming play, and how do Clíona and Grace's choices for their daughters reflect their roles at mothers? What does Graínne mean when she refers to her name saying, "It should have been my mother's name, not mine." (p. 161)? What keeps her from accepting her name, and why does she choose to give her mother's name as her own on page 32?

2. When Grace is told the myth at the heart of her mother's name, she says it suits Clíona perfectly because her life was also one of "pitiful and unimaginative subjection to others" (p. 7). But when Graínne hears the same myth years later, her reaction (p. 249) is much different. What does this tell us about Graínne, and what does it promise for her relationship with her grandmother?

3. The search for a place to call home is a powerful element of this novel. Discuss how growing up in the Willoughby home may have affected Grace. Does Graínne, too, lack a home? Do you think she's able to find one at the end of the novel?

4. The island of Inis Murúch is a character in its own right. What is the significance of an island setting, and how does this backdrop affect each character differently?

5. Soon after her mother's death, Graínne stops eating. Why does not eating become so important to her, and how does her slow self-starvation relate to her mother's illness?

6. Graínne is first introduced to the Catholic mass by her grandmother, and she takes a particular interest in the miracle of transubstantiation, the process by which bread and wine become the body and blood of Christ. She recalls the intonation, "This is my body, it will be given up for you" on page 109, and thinks immediately of Stephen. Why?

7. Repetition is another important element in this novel. Graínne repeats Grace's journey to Inis Murúch with Clíona, for instance. What other repetitions are there? Do you think these characters are fated to repeat each other's journeys?

8. When Graínne asks her mother about her background, Grace answers, "You're whatever you want to be. It's not important where you come from. What matters is where you take yourself" (pp. 52-53). Do you think Grace believes this statement wholeheartedly? Is it true for these women?

9. The action of the novel unfolds in a non-linear form, with past and present flowing freely. What does this contribute to the story? How would a more straightforward handling of the sequence of events have altered the reading experience?

10. The image of mermaids is one of the most prevalent in the novel. Grace, in particular, is strongly associated with them. What makes her most mermaid-like and what does the connection reveal about her? Where else does mermaid imagery appear?

11. When Graínne first learns that her grandmother is alive, she isn't willing to accept the truth, claiming, "My mother tells me everything" (p. 12). How does the revelation of Grace's secrets change Graínne's perception of her mother? How do the secrets each woman kept affect her relationship with her daughter? How would their lives have turned out differently if there had been no secrets between them?

12. More than one character literally drowns in THE MERMAIDS SINGING and others feel that they are drowning metaphorically. Why is this such an important theme, and what meaning does it hold for each character?

13. When Seamus tries to embrace her, Grace tells him, "You're holding me too tight" (p. 191). In what ways is the feeling of being trapped important to these characters? Ultimately, Seamus decides to set Grace free, losing his daughter in the process. Do you think Seamus's decision not to pursue his wife and child is a courageous and selfless decision, or a cowardly one?

14. On page 171, Eamon tells Grace, "The O'Flaherty's have got the mermaids on their side, in the odd case God isn't watching." What's the significance of this statement? Do you agree with him?

About the Author
LISA CAREY received a B.A. in English and Philosophy from Boston College and an M.F.A. in Creative Writing from Vermont College. Her only job worth mentioning was at the independent bookstore Brookline Booksmith, where she remains a loyal customer. She divides her time between New England and Ireland. THE MERMAIDS SINGING is her first novel.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 19 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 20 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted May 17, 2012


    Love this book. One of my favorites. Always love to reread it.

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  • Posted September 30, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    Thorougly enjoyed and didn't want to put it down!

    This was an excellent book. I enjoyed all the characters and I definitely didn't think there was too much sex. It really gets you thinking about relationships and how no matter how hard you try to not be like your parents with your own children - there usually is a lot of them in you.

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  • Posted October 18, 2008

    I Also Recommend:


    the book captures my attention right from the first page, and it continues to do so throughout the entire novel, buy why only a 3 stars rating? the story lacked compassions, and i believe the novel values sensuality a bit too much, i wouldnt recommend anyone under the age of 18 to read this. And at certain times it strikes anger in me when i am reading this book, the closure wasnt strong enough, it shouldve ended differently and the Sex in the book is unncecessary, and in some way it seems as if the book is promoting sexuality....but all in general the book is a good read, quite entertaining and at times touching..the characters are interesting and you can feel yourself drawn to each and everyone of them closely, Lisa Carey did a great job on making the book entertaining and fast pace, i look forward to her next book

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 7, 2008

    totally awful.....

    I read almost all of the reviews raving about this book and can't figure out for the life of me what made this the best book anyone ever read! There was too much (explicit) sex. I certainly am no prude and reading about it doesn't bother me, but why was it necessary to go into such detail about every sexual encounter? The whole story was just too far fetched for my likes.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 9, 2007

    A compelling novel about the strength of three heroines

    This novel was gripping and from the first chapter on I was hooked. The characters are well developed and the author provides many examples of how difficult it is for them to be strong. Captivating and filled with a gripping sense of reality and descriptive scenes that tie in to the plot, this book is one of the best I have read in awhile.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 4, 2005

    I Love This Book!

    This is such a great book. Ever since I read it has become my favorite book. The main characters have such strong personalities and are so independant, they captivate you, that's what I love about it. It has tragedy, romance, all the good stuff.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 18, 2005

    Mermaids Singing... good for the SOUL.

    I have not wasted my money on buying this book. From the very first page of the novel, you feel like you are there witnessing every detail of the three heroines' lives. I've learned a lot from this story and Miss Lisa Carey have made a wonderful book full of hope and a good moral lesson to share. Keep it up miss lisa! :)

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 31, 2004


    This book is poetic epic that draws you in and holds you fascinated till the very end. You feel like you know each character personally, and you don't want the book to end. Definately one of the best books I've ever read, and I will continue to read any book Lisa Carey puts out. She is an amazingly skilled new writer.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 5, 2002

    I LOVED this book

    This is by far the best book I have ever read. I was almost sad when I was finished. I didn't want the book to end. I love this book.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 22, 2001

    A Beautifully Written, Lyrical Novel

    Almost immediately, I was drawn into the world of Grace, Grainne and Cliona. Each woman is beautifully drawn, and I felt like I was in the skin of each one. What a tragic, beautiful story of love lost, and mistakes made. Having lost my mother, I understood how Grainne felt when she never got the chance to say goodbye, and feel lucky that I was there at her bedside when she passed. Lisa Carey is a major talent, and I look forward to reading more of her books.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 31, 2001

    Good story about family

    I love to read about Ireland. I think it is one of the most fascinating places on Earth. To read a story about mother/daughter relationships set there was a treat. All three of the women in this book have some quality that most women can relate to. I found I had more in common with Grainne, probably since she closer to my age. However, I found Grace a little hard to like. Althought I can understand her motivations, her actions are hard to feel sympathy for. Still, this is a good book for anyone who likes to read about the complex relationships between mothers and daughters.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 24, 2000

    A book for everyone

    This is an amazing book about the relationships between mothers, daughters, and granddaughters. It takes a while to understand the unique writing style that Ms. Carey adopts in this novel, but it works extreamely well in telling the three stories that intermix and it certainly keeps you on your toes. I recomend this book to anyone that is looking to find out who they are, where they belong, and why they are where they are. In addition to being a 'can't put it down book' it really makes you think. I loved it!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 12, 2000

    Nothing will Ever be Better

    I have never read a book that was so... just absolutely perfect. Everything about this book, literally was perfect. It was by far the best book I've ever read. I cried my eyes out through the whole thing... I laughed my butt off through the whole thing. I made all of my friends read the book and they all feel the same way. If you haven't read it then please do. I even made my English teacher ( a 40 year old man) read it and he cried in class while reading it during SSR. It's reallly the best book ever.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 27, 2000

    I loved it!

    i read a lot and i have never read such an outstanding book! This is my all time favorite book. i can not wait to read her next book. i am making all my friends read it, and i know they'll love it as much as i did.

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    Posted July 8, 2009

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    Posted July 24, 2010

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    Posted June 19, 2011

    No text was provided for this review.

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    Posted January 27, 2009

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    Posted November 6, 2008

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    Posted November 4, 2011

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