Since she was found as a baby, floating in the Thames one foggy night, web toed Pearl has been brought up in a brothel known as the House of Mermaids. Cosseted and pampered there, it is only when her fourteenth birthday approaches that Pearl realises she is to be sold to the highest bidder.
Meanwhile, orphaned twins, Lily and Elijah, have shared an idyllic childhood, raised in a secluded country house with their grandfather, Augustus Lamb. But when Lily and Elijah visit London, a chance meeting with Pearl will have repercussions for all of them, binding their fates together in a dark and dangerous way…
In this bewitching, sensual novel, Essie Fox has written a tale of obsessive love and betrayal, moving from the respectable worlds of Victorian art and literature, and into the shadowy demi-monde of brothels, asylums and freak show tents – a world in which nothing and no one is quite what they seem to be.
After reading Essie Fox’s debut novel The Somnambulist I was expecting big things from Elijah’s Mermaid, and for the most part I wasn’t disappointed.
When orphaned twins Elijah and Lily have a chance meeting with Pearl, little do they know that from that moment on all of their lives will change. Shortly after Lily and Elijah leave London and go back to Kingsland House, Pearl is sold to the artist Osbourne Black – she is to become his new muse, his mermaid. A few years later, Black visits Kingsland House; he has heard about Elijah’s photography skills and wants to employ him. In tow is Black’s wife, who Lily and Elijah recognise as Pearl. Elijah has been in love with Pearl ever since their first meeting and wastes no time in accepting Black’s offer. However a few months into his employment Elijah goes missing, and Lily must to travel to London to find her brother and to find out the truth about all of their lives.
The story itself was just as good as I expected, but there were a few things that niggled me. This is mainly down to my personal preferences and it’s not to say that other people won’t love these aspects. The book is told from Lily and Pearl’s points of views, with odd sections from Elijah’s diary or newspaper reports and letters. I wasn’t a huge fan of this style, as rather than chapters the book just flitted between Lily and Pearl, and each section was labelled with the name of the girl currently telling the story. I understand the purpose for this, as it gives the story different dimensions depending on who is narrating, but I just prefer to have chapters rather than long sections – and on more than one occasion I found myself having to check back to see whose turn it was.
Unlike The Somnanbulist, which felt like it would fit in with other Victorian novels, Elijah’s Mermaid was written in a way that made it appear like a true story, with the inclusion of a modern day article at the end to tie all the events together. I actually really liked this idea, however I felt the number of twists and turns towards the end of the book somewhat ruined the illusion of it being a real story. For me, there were a few too many revelations and twists surrounding the lives of Lily, Elijah and Pearl, and it felt like it was trying just a little too hard to surprise the reader. I would have found it more enjoyable had the shock element been toned down.
Overall I really enjoyed Elijah’s Mermaid, and the bits I found less enjoyable were quite easily overlooked due this being another passionately written novel.