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Literary Friday: Mermaid and The Dinner

Friday, January 10, 2014

This week I read two very different novels:  Mermaid by Carolyn Turgeon and The Dinner by Herman Koch.  One I enjoyed, and the other, not so much….

I won this copy of Mermaid from Marfi @ Incipient Wings.
Thank-you, Marfi!

The book I enjoyed: Mermaid.  The Princess of the Northern Kingdom Margrethe is in hiding at a secluded convent while her country wars with the Southern Kingdom.  On a bitterly cold winter's day, Margrethe witnesses a miracle:  A mermaid places a shipwreck survivor on the rocky shore next to the convent's garden.  The ethereal creature summons Margrethe telepathically to rescue the prince, and then disappears.  From the story's beginning, there is a supernatural connection between Margrethe and the mermaid.

Lenia, the youngest daughter of the Queen of the mer folk, saves a young man as his ship falls apart during a raging storm on her eighteenth birthday. This is the only day a mermaid can ascend to the surface of the sea, and Lenia has broken every rule in the book.  She falls in love at first sight with the young man she saves:  Christopher, the Prince of the South, and mortal enemy of Princess Margrethe.  During his delirium, Christopher thinks his "angel" who saved him is a novice named "Mira."  He mistakenly thinks Mira sang to him as she rescued him from the sea.  They have a moment in the garden before the prince abruptly leaves (after all, he's in enemy territory) and neither suspects the the other's true identity.

In the meantime, Lenia makes a deal with the devil, the Sea Witch Sybil.  She wants to be a human girl so she can be with Prince Christopher.  She literally loses everything only to discover that a deal is in the works for a truce marriage between Princess Margrethe and Prince Christopher.  Another complication is that Lenia and Margrethe have become friends, and neither knows that the other is in love with the Prince.

Mermaid is a fantastic retelling of The Little Mermaid, only it's a little bit darker and a bit more "adult." Told alternately from Margrethe's and Lenia's point of view,  I found the love triangle disturbing in the gothic story.  Yet miraculously, Turgeon writes a very satisfying albeit bittersweet ending.

The Dinner is like watching a train wreck:  You know you shouldn't watch it, yet you do it anyway.  I should have put the book down after a few chapters, yet I just couldn't.  

The book's narrator is Paul Lohman, brother of Serge Lohman.  Serge is a politician, and he's favored to become Holland's next Prime Minister.  He has summoned Paul and Paul's wife Claire to dinner at a posh restaurant with himself and his wife Babette. The purpose for the dinner is to talk about a family (and political) crisis. Each couple has a fifteen year old son, and both young men committed a crime that will eventually be revealed to the reader.

The first problem with the book is the narrator and his credibility.  Paul hints that there's something not right with himself, that he has a "mental illness." The reader is led to believe that it's Aspergers, and if that's the case, Koch did a very poor job in his characterization of Paul.  I must say that on a personal level I was so offended by it I could barely finish reading the book. But then again none of the characters were likable, and the smarmy restaurant manager had me thinking violent thoughts myself.  

Koch does a very good job in developing a plot and revealing secrets and agendas; and Paul Lohman is a character I certainly won's soon forget:  He's a demented Walter Mitty with Hannibal Lechter's 

Read at your own risk.

"Mrs. Dilloway suddenly appeared in the doorway.  'Pardon my intrusion,' she said, her voice steeped in formality that didn't fit the decade, or perhaps even the century.  'If you would like to accompany me, I will begin the tour now.'"

page 56 from The Last Camellia by Sarah Jio

Until next time…

Happy reading!
Ricki Jill


  1. Dare I say..... I'm glad I'm not the only one, who is beginning 2014, with reading issues... -grin-

    I'm whining/posting today, about not finding books, which I am really enjoying. -moan- -sigh- -sob- :-))))) At least now I know, I'm not completely alone.

    Good luck to both of us! For finding a delightful run, of grrrrrrreat-to-us books!!!!!


  2. The Mermaid sounds fun.. a little different than the Disney version;) Great reviews!

  3. Oh Ricki...If I'd known you were contemplating reading The dinner I would have warned you against it. That is one of the most disturbing reads of all time for me (right under Pillars of the Earth where the bad guy throws the baby up in the air). Your review is spot on! Glad you had one book that you enjoyed. Hope your next is good too.


  4. I like your 55 and your thought on the books!

    Here is my snapshot post.

  5. I love a good fairytale retelling, especially when it hints at the darkness of the original tale. How sad (and naively child-like) for Lenia to act on that impulse and trade everything for a chance at something she doesn't understand (reading that paragraph, I cringed, because teenage me would have done exactly that, stupidly). I look forward to reading it- thanks! :)

  6. Oops!! I left the wrong link previously.

    Here is my correct post!

  7. Glad you enjoyed mermaid!
    I got a bit worried at first :)
    I will definitely avoid the horrible dinner one.
    Thanks for the reviews

  8. Well, a bad one balances the good one, I suppose. ;)
    Thanks for the warning about The Dinner. I hate it when contemporary adult fiction tries to be edgy by being insipid, unrealistic, and depressing. I don't expect (or want) every book to be full of rainbows and hope, but unrealistic characters will make me put the book down without ever finishing it. Bah! :(

  9. I'd read all three!
    Happy weekend!

  10. Wow-a that sounds rather strange. I too get upset with any misrepresentation of Aspergers.
    There has been enough of that already in the media.
    BTW RJ....I made your date balls today and they were a HIT!!!! Oh yah..I am very popular right now. And yes, I gave you full credit.

  11. Hi Ricki! I don't know if my first comment was submitted. Blame the intermittent internet connection here :( I miss linking up in your Sunday series. Reading took quite a step back lately because of the bulk of work. I'm catching up with your posts.

    Wishing you a great week ahead!

  12. I think I've seen a few reviews on The Dinner, but obviously I haven't read it! The Last Camellia... how is that?

  13. I'm not sure if my comments are posting...

  14. I love mermaids and the cover for the Last Camellia is very pretty. Thanks for sharing the books and your thoughts.

  15. Oh, forgot to mention. Thanks for stopping by fundinmental and commenting on my Friday 56.

  16. Oh how I love mermaids, Ricki Jill! They are so mysterious and beautiful. I have a collection of mermaids that are special to me.



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I'm Ricki Jill. Welcome! I'm honored that you're reading my blog. I enjoy sharing my creative lifestyle @ The Bookish Dilettante. For more information about my blog, please read the Start Here page. Thank-you for stopping by, and I hope you'll consider following me via email.


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