From the author of The Secret Life of Bees comes another vividly descriptive book, The Mermaid Chair.
The novel details a tempestuous time in the life of Jessie Sullivan, dependable wife and mother. At a time when she was feeling trapped in her settled and routine life with her husband; Jessie welcomed the opportunity to go home to Egret Island, after her mother has an ‘accident’. Upon returning to the island, after five and half years of being away, Jessie embarks on an emotional journey; as her soul re-awakens.
In a drastic departure from her quiet married life, Jessie begins a torrid affair with a Benedictine Monk, revelling in her new immense feelings of sexual desire, freedom and longing; and releasing her to find the real Jessie that had got buried during her marriage. The question of whether her marriage will survive the end of the book is one that kept me in agony, knowing how she felt about both the men in her life. I also really felt for both the male characters as the author gave enough depth to their characters to make me care what happened to them.
The sub-plot of her mother provides an equally emotional distraction to Jessie’s unfaithfulness. Her mother’s instability and the secrets surrounding her father’s death give an air of mystery to the novel which peaked my interest to try and discover the truth.
As with The Secret Life of Bees, this book is incredibly descriptive. It is set on an island for which Sue Monk Kidd has beautifully created the look, feel and smell of each scene; and for me, it perfectly captured the feeling of time spent by the sea. As an example…”…the aroma of the island penetrated, a powerful brew of silt, old crab pots, salted air, and black, gooey mudflats alive and crawling with pungent creatures”. Even now, I can close my eyes and picture the sights and sounds of Egret Island.
The Mermaid Chair has a nice easy pace and is very easy to read, with enough going on to pull you through and keep you interested. It explores themes of religion, faith, love, relationships and the strong bonds between female friends. I wouldn’t rank this book as one of my all time favourites, but it was an enjoyable read. I loved the self discovery aspect of the novel and how Jessie became a whole person again, taking control of her own life. I did find it a little too emotional at times for my taste (I don’t cope well with story lines of unfaithfulness), and also some of the scenes involving the mother were sometimes a little strong; but on the whole I would recommend this book.