Mermaids in Paradise

Mermaids in ParadiseMermaids in Paradise by Lydia Millet

My rating: 1 of 5 stars

A couple on honeymoon at a Caribbean resort get roped into helping a marine biologist when she discovers mermaids in the coral reefs, setting off a comedic chain of events – not least of which is the apparent death of the biologist by drowning in her bathtub. I am unsure if I was supposed to find this funny or not, which is an indication of the problematic tone of this novel.

It is billed as a satire, and I was sort of expecting something along the lines of Carl Hiaasen. However, the book is way too frothy and loses its buoyancy when it segues into a rather fumbling ‘whodunnit’.

Surprisingly, the titular mermaids only make their appearance quite late, with the first section dissecting the life of the newlyweds. By then it is quite apparent that the mermaids are just a McGuffin, with Millet giving short shrift to any serious consideration of such a potential discovery.

The ‘whodunnit’ section is totally implausible, with a lot of bad plotting and even worse characterisation. Also, Millet attempts to be mock serious at this point, which simply does not work. I also found the lead female character to be extremely fatuous and irritating; her Labrador-like ‘jock’ husband is equally annoying.

The scene where she accidentally plays footsie with a hick from the American Heartland at the dinner table, and then feels guilty when he presumes her attention was that of a fellow foot fetishist – it cannot be cheating if it is foot-genital contact, says the hick, apparently borrowing a cigar from Bill Clinton – is enough to set the feminist movement back a couple of centuries.

Of course, our heroine then spends the entire fucking book worrying about whether or not she actually is a foot fetishist, by which stage the long-suffering reader just wants to kick her in the face and throw her to the mermaids as fish bait.

There is quite an awe-inducing moment towards the end when Millet pulls a Peter Jackson ‘more is bigger and better’ move on the mermaids … but then she ruins the effect totally by having our heroine ruminate on an impending asteroid strike on the planet. WTF?

Thus the book limps towards its watery conclusion. Satire is one of the most difficult things to write, as it requires a fine balance between incredulity and believability. It does not mean that commonsense and logic can be thrown out of the window. Millet tries to set the bar higher than a light and undemanding beach read, but scuppers her own best intentions.

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