Early one morning a group of five girls from a small fishing village encounter three mermaids in a cave by the sea's shore. No real interaction occurs between the girls and the mermaids. The girls though are mesmerised by the creatures and begin telling their tale to whoever would listen. They are not believed.
The majority of this book focuses on Sarah Carr, the eldest of the group, and the town magistrate and church minister who are questioning her about these events, trying to get her to admit that the girls had invented the whole thing.
The magistrate is particularly venomous in his questioning, interrogating the girl as though she had committed mass murder. In his eyes Sarah is bringing ridicule down upon the town, especially as she told her tale to a newspaper reporter.
For a fantasy novella there is very little actual fantasy in this tale. Indeed if you consider that the mermaids only appear in the retelling of a tale by the girl at the centre of the story you could say there is none at all. But there is a pervading feel of something otherwordly running throughout the story.
The book concentrates on the reactions of the village-folk to the tales told by the girl. Some react angrily, fearing the embarrassment this could cause their home, others looking for ways to exploit the notoriety and the influx of people who would come to seek out the mermaids in an attempt to reverse some of the decline the town had suffered since its hey-day.
This is not a book for anyone who likes closure in their fiction, or for that matter action. The main events of this novel don't even occur during the timeline of the book - they are just included as testimony. In many ways this is more like the real world. Things happen, people talk about them and then they just fade out of our collective consciousness, leaving the people involved to get on with their lives. I like this in a book.
Having the majority of the piece as a questioning session works well. The barely controlled anger of the town magistrate is very believable. He would be the kind of man who would be incensed at the girls and their tales, and of the fact that the situation has grown beyond his control with Sarah's telling her tale to a reporter.
The "good-cop, bad-cop" routine the magistrate shares with the minister is handled well, better than I would have expected. This too easily could have felt forced, included only for effect, to house the mermaid encounter retelling. This is a good read. It's original, more than I would have believed from a quick read of its blurb and the setting reads true. I've visited declining fishing villages like this in many part of England.
This is good stuff!