“Charged, atmospheric, thought-provoking and bleakly skewed”



I picked The Merman up not really knowing what to expect. It’s the English translation of Carl-Johan Vallgren’s Havsmannen and for that part it reads very well. I’m always cautious with translations that something might be lost, but I loved this tale of hardship, magic, and loss.

Nella is a 15-year-old girl and the story starts with her and her younger brother Robert. It’s clear from the start the children are set apart from their peers; they have no money, they wear old clothes, and the other children tell them they smell. The pair are bullied horrendously at school and it makes for uneasy, if realistic reading.

Pretty soon we meet the pair’s mother, the reason the family have nothing. An alcoholic, she drinks away the family’s paltry funds and with Nella’s father in prison they really are stuck.

The story is told from Nella’s perspective and she’s an articulate storyteller. Pretty soon I was drawn in for concern for the family as the tale takes much darker tones. It’s a melancholy tale, but beautiful, and while it’s not always easy on the heart to read, it’s written in very easy and believable language (I read the English translation, the novel is Swedish).

Nella eventually has to stand up to the bullies, in more ways than one. This really is a heartbreaking, believable and evocative tale and I came away from it with fondness and love for Nella, Robert and many other characters from within the book.

My concern for the characters as the book came to an end was palpable, and maybe I read too much YA because I was really hoping for some nicely tied bows and happy endings. The ending stuck to the gritty realism of the rest of the book, and certain things are left hanging. I wasn’t disappointed though, this is how it should be.

A great read and upon hearing it’s the author’s eighth novel, I’m thrilled to have discovered a new author too.


Reviewed by:

Kath Cross

Added 4th May 2015

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Kath Cross