Readers’ Advisory 1: Mermaids in Paradise. Lydia Millet

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Quick Facts

Author: Lydia Millet

Published 2014 W.W. Norton and Company.

290pp. 9780393245622. $25.95US $28.95CAN

General Fiction, Dark Humor, Satire

Available in print, eBook, and audiobook

Why I Read It

This is a clear case of “I loved the cover.” I picked it up at the library solely, because I thought the cover was cool. I read the cover flap, found myself intrigued by mermaids invading a couple’s honeymoon. The idea of mermaids in the regular, non-paranormal, non-fantastical world has always fascinated me. I was excited to read it.

TLL’s Tag

Deb convinced Chip the islands were perfect for honeymooners. They also happen to be perfect for mermaids.

The Rundown

Deb and Chip are about to get married, but first they must decided on a honeymoon location, Virgin Gorda, British Virgin Islands. All is going remarkably well. They eat, drink, and make merry. Chip makes friends. Deb brushes those friends off. A dinner companion, Nancy, is a biologist on sabbatical studying parrot fish. One day, she rushes toward Deb and Chip on the beach to tell them of an event that no one thought possible. Mermaids…in the Caribbean. Real, live mermaids. What follows is part murder mystery, part ecological and ethical dilemma, and all satire. They say the road to hell is paved with good intentions.

Here’s what I think

No. Just no. Millet exhibits a command of the English language and comedic timing worthy of the Pulitzer Prize finalist that she is, but Mermaids in Paradise was not what I wanted. When I see the phrase “genre-bending”, I know that I’m going to be getting something offbeat, something that not everyone is going to love or even like. Usually, I get it, and I like it. That did not happen with Mermaids. From the beginning the narrator, Deb, is too sarcastic and abrasive for me. Admittedly, she does have some great inner monologue moments, such as the fat tragedy scene. But, overall, it didn’t feel right. I cannot count how many times, the reader is told that Gina is ironic and distant and doesn’t do relationships. It was exhausting. Frankly, all that would be fine, if Gina wasn’t also very mean. Chip, happy, talkative, obsessed with the Heartland Chip. He’s a gamer jock that might have been the best character in the whole book, next to the parrot fish biologist Nancy.

A slow beginning that picks up when the honeymoon begins. Deb and Chip are genuinely trying to enjoy each other and their time on the island. Enter the mermaids. This scene, I thought, was well done and fun. Nancy spots them first, then rounds up a diving excursion with an outlandish pretense to have her sighting corroborated by others. Moments of clarity, however, are not enough to redeem this one in my eyes. This was not my book. Satire and social commentary, I can get behind. Dark humor, laughing at things I’m not supposed to laugh at, perfectly fine. Whatever this was…not so much.

Final decision

Have you ever met a book that you felt was right up your alley, only to discover that it wasn’t? That’s this book.

3Q–Readable, without serious defects.

2P— Will appeal with pushing.

Readalikes, courtesy of NoveList Plus


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Appeal Factors

offbeat, sarcastic, witty, dry humor, dark humor

Book talk ideas

Mud run and drunkenness p.24-31

Bachelorette party p.34-36

The fat tragedy p.60-62

Toe sluts p.78-80

Mermaid sighting p. 103-104

Book discussion questions

1) The characters know of their impending doom through the novel. Do you feel this knowledge amplified their feelings towards the mermaids?

2) Deb experiences a moment of peace after the blue whale visitation. Why?

3) Gina’s ironic persona is revealed to be a defense mechanism. Do you think she’s happy with her life? Why or why not?

4) What was your favorite scene or line?

Clues to the Future

mermaids, sarcasm, Deb and Chip, Mermaids in Paradise, Lydia Millet, British Virgin Islands, ironic friends, middle America.

Awards and Lists

LibraryReads Favorites: November 2014

Links to the Author, Interviews, and Reviews

Author website:

The Believer Interview:

BookPage Interview:

Salon Interview:

The New York Times Review:

Washington Post Review:

Bookslut Review:


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