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From Barnes & NobleBarnes & 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.