Mermaid Road

Louise Carson book image

Mermaid Road, a handmade book; Louise Carson, Broken Rules Press, 2013

Mermaid Road is not a conventional imagining of a mermaid’s life. It is set along the shores of North America’s east coast and an unnamed land not unlike Greece.  Inspired by ancient legend, this tale is unquestionably contemporary. Far from a children’s fairy story, it is told from a woman’s perspective with no attempt to gloss over the harsh realities of sea and land, and of life in what others may view as an exotic body, whose composite elements pull in directions all their own. In the narrator’s own words, it is “the story of one who desires to move out of her element or what she’s been told is her element.”

Louise Carson uses a number of voices in this curious tale that considers both the practical and mythical aspects of ancient legends of merfolk, seal-people and birds with human features. The narrator’s voice is distinct from that of the mermaid’s human mother, who quietly sidesteps convention to honour her daughter, and from the mermaid herself as she grows from childhood to adolescence to adulthood and makes her way on her own.  The narrator is matter-of-fact about the stirrings of sexuality, the dangers of predation, the practical choices facing the females of the species.  Behind these considerations, we catch glimpses of a fertile mind that ponders our amphibian and avian connections, the possibilities of genetic anomalies in pregnancy, the responsibilities of parents to recognize and nurture their children’s essential selves (however different), and the challenges of being true to oneself.

The sensual and artful quality of this hand-bound book is immediately evident. Beautifully typeset on textured paper the shade of sea foam, this small book is illustrated with poetic images of seal-women dancing with a mermaid, and of angelic-looking bird-people. The seal-women graphics are derived from postage stamps issued by the Faroe Islands, which, like Scotland and Ireland, are steeped in legends of selkies.

Carson delves into these realms of primordial consciousness without romanticism or glibness, and is undaunted by the challenge of imagining life as a hybrid being feeling the pull of land and water yet belonging fully to neither. This book is a testament to a questing and experimental mind that is bold enough to immerse itself in strange and ancient amniotic waters.