The Mermaid of Black Conch by Monique Roffey: Alluring Magical Realism

 I am a proud member of the Better World Books, Blackwell’s and affiliate networks – ethical and independent online bookshops. Please note that this post contains affiliate links. Purchases made through these links will earn me a small commission at no extra cost to you – plus I only link to books I’ve read, reviewed and am sure you’ll enjoy!


Rating: 4 out of 5.

Genre Literary Fiction

Format Paperback (borrowed from library)

Publication Date April 2020

Length 272 pages

Content Warnings Graphic violence, sexual assault, themes of racism and colonialism, references to suicide

What It’s About

When David sets out in his fishing boat from the island of Black Conch, on a morning that seems the same as any other, the last thing he expects is to come face-to-face with a mermaid. He always thought such creatures existed only in rumour and legend, but here one stares at his boat in the vulnerable reality of flesh and blood, and he must step in to protect her when American tourists arrive for a hunting trip like no other.

David nurtures trust and then love between himself and the mermaid, desperate to carve out a life for them among the richness and darkness of his island home. Yet it remains to be seen whether this fusion of woman and myth can ever be his to hold onto.


The Mermaid of Black Conch is a powerful example of how magical realism can be used to foreground social issues under a defamiliarising spotlight. The early chapters, which chronicle the mermaid’s capture in sickening detail, are a parable of colonial violence that could be difficult to read.

In fact, the novel feels like a fable throughout, with its relatively simple storyline proving that a convoluted plot isn’t necessary for an impactful read. This mythic tone is deepened by a sense of underlying wisdom:

“I wanted to keep her safe, or so I told myself, but maybe I fool myself too; maybe ‘keep’ was the problem. I learn things hard and slow. Man, you need to give deep feelings of affection and care, not keep them.”

~ Monique Roffey, ‘The Mermaid of Black Conch’
The Mermaid of Black Conch by Monique Roffey Book Review Pinterest Graphic

I can be sceptical about experimental writing styles, often finding them a little pompous. The Mermaid of Black Conch is far from written in straightforward prose – the mermaid’s perspective is in verse form, alongside diary entries and dialogues rich in oral tradition and eye dialect.

The result is a gorgeous and sensual tone, enticing readers to immerse themselves in the novel’s ethereal concept. Nothing else would have breathed life into the mysterious and magical Black Conch! I found that the multitude of voices brought into play helped each character to become fully realised and kept the plot moving forward too.



Diversity and Representation

This novel is deeply rooted in Caribbean culture, voices, myth, and history. By simply asking the question ‘what if…‘ magical realism opens up a stark new angle from which to examine the enduring trauma of colonialism and white supremacy.

The story also features positive deaf representation in the loveable and confident character of Reggie.

The Mermaid of Black Conch by Monique Roffey Quote


  • Sexuality & desire
  • Belonging
  • Colonialism
  • Myth
  • History
  • Family
  • Nature
  • The body

Beyond the Book

One of the themes that I loved to see explored in The Mermaid of Black Conch was the multitude of ways in which a woman’s body may be figured as desirable. David is initially attracted to the mermaid for her strangeness and the powerful way in which she takes up space (feat. sharp teeth and a huge, muscular tail!) This makes a refreshing change from conventions that measure a woman’s attractiveness by her ability to shrink.

Discussion Questions

If you’re reading The Mermaid of Black Conch as a book club pick or just looking to ponder the story in a little more depth, these questions should help get you started:

1. The mythic themes and underlying wisdom make The Mermaid of Black Conch feel almost like a fable. If you approach the novel from this angle, what do you think the ‘message’ of the fable would be? Or is it too complex to pin down?

2. Did the lyrical, experimental, polyvocal writing style help you connect with the characters and setting?

3. What was your opinion of the story’s ending? Did it surprise you? Would you have wanted a different finale?


Favourite Quote

“Womanhood was a dangerous business if you didn’t get it right.”

~ Monique Roffey, ‘The Mermaid of Black Conch’

Read If You would like to be enticed into a sensual and alluring magical realism novel.

Buy Now

Better World Books
  • Paperback (Used Very Good)
  • Free Delivery!
  • Paperback (New)
  • Free Delivery!
  • Paperback (New)
  • Support independent bookshops!

You may also like: Circe by Madeline Miller.

Have you read The Mermaid of Black Conch? What other magical realism books would you recommend? Let me know in the comments – I would love to hear from you!

8 thoughts on “The Mermaid of Black Conch by Monique Roffey: Alluring Magical Realism”

  1. Great review and I am glad you enjoyed it. Magical realism isn’t my favourite thing, but I do find stories about mermaids kinda intriguing, because there is so many myth and symbolic meanings connected with them.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much! I can be very picky about fantasy or magical realism elements too, but in this book the magical touch just works so well that I never stopped to question it. I’d definitely recommend it to anyone looking to dip their toe into magical realism 📚❤️ X x x

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I hadn’t heard of this one before Florence, but after reading your review I feel like I know what to expect more before diving into it! I enjoy magical realism so I’m definitely adding this one to my tbr, what a detailed and fantastic review! 😄💖

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much for the kind words! 🥰 Magical realism is a genre that’s pretty new to me but the more I read the more I love it. The Mermaid of Black Conch combines reality and myth so beautifully, I’d definitely recommend it! 📚❤️ X x x

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Didn’t this win a Costa award recently? I’ve certainly heard of it, and am starting to warm to Magical Realism, so I may give it a try. There have been quite a few books featuring mermaids recently, starting with the Mermaid and Mrs. Handcock, have you read that one? I wonder why mermaids have become such a popular image all of a sudden. Great review as ever xx

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes it was Costa Book of the Year which is very well deserved! I’m also quite new to magical realism, and this is the only mermaid book I’ve read – I’ll definitely check out The Mermaid & Mrs Hancock too! Maybe the recent trend in feminist retellings has boosted the popularity of mermaid stories. Thank you so much for commenting Alyson! 📚❤️ X x x


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s