Lit News

The ‘utterly original’ Mermaid of Black Conch wins Costa Book of the Year

The Mermaid of Black Conch, a dark love story about a fisherman and a mermaid torn from the sea, has won the Costa Book of the Year award. Trinidadian-born British writer Monique Roffey beat four other contenders with her sixth novel to scoop the £30,000 prize.

Judges said the book was “utterly original… and feels like a classic in the making”. And a “delighted” Roffey said her win was a vote for Caribbean literature. “A huge thank you to the judges for exposing my book to a wide readership. I’ll be pinching myself for weeks to come,” she added.

Based on a Taino legend of a beautiful woman transformed into a mermaid, the story is set in the Caribbean village of St Constance. David, a fisherman, unexpectedly attracts the attention of Aycayia, a mermaid who is drawn to his singing. When she is captured from the sea during an annual fishing competition, he does all he can to save her, with dramatic consequences.

Professor Suzannah Lipscomb, chair of judges, said: “The Mermaid of Black Conch is an extraordinary, beautifully written, captivating, visceral book – full of mythic energy and unforgettable characters, including some tremendously transgressive women.”

According to an analysis from Rebecca Jones, a correspondent from BBC Arts, the Costa Book Awards has a reputation for picking popular reads – books one would normally recommend to a friend. And she definitely recommends The Mermaid of Black Conch.

The story is set on a Caribbean island in the 1970s and it is based on a legend passed down by the indigenous people of the Caribbean, the Taino – sprinkled with touches of magic and snippets of poetry. The book was also shortlisted for the Goldsmiths Prize last year, which rewards fiction that breaks the mould or extends the possibilities of the novel.

Jones lauds the book saying that: while it is unusual, it is also a joy to read, brimming with memorable characters and vivid descriptions. For her, The Mermaid of Black Conch was a hugely entertaining and thought-provoking novel and a worthy winner.

Importantly, the author of the award-winning book ensures Caribbean representation: in fact, Roffey is a senior lecturer in creative writing at Manchester Metropolitan University, who secured her publishing deal through Peepal Tree Press, an independent publisher supporting Caribbean writers. She then crowd-funded her publicity campaign for the book with the support of fellow authors.

(Article extracted from BBC News with minor revisions to the headline and text by Sakshi Selvanathan)

Categories: Lit News

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