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The Mermaid Chair: A Novel Hardcover – April 5, 2005

3 out of 5 stars 825 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Sue Monk Kidd's The Mermaid Chair is the soulful tale of Jessie Sullivan, a middle-aged woman whose stifled dreams and desires take shape during an extended stay on Egret Island, where she is caring for her troubled mother, Nelle. Like Kidd's stunning debut novel, The Secret Life of Bees, her highly anticipated follow up evokes the same magical sense of whimsy and poignancy.

While Kidd places an obvious importance on the role of mysticism and legend in this tale, including the mysterious mermaid's chair at the center of the island's history, the relationships between characters is what gives this novel its true weight. Once she returns to her childhood home, Jessie is forced to confront not only her relationship with her estranged mother, but her other emotional ties as well. After decades of marriage to Hugh, her practical yet conventional husband, Jessie starts to question whether she is craving an independence she never had the chance to experience. After she meets Brother Thomas, a handsome monk who has yet to take his final vows, Jessie is forced to decide whether passion can coexist with comfort, or if the two are mutually exclusive. As her soul begins to reawaken, Jessie must also confront the circumstances of her father's death, a tragedy that continues to haunt Jessie and Nelle over thirty years later.

By boldly tackling such major themes as love, betrayal, grief, and forgiveness, The Mermaid Chair forces readers to question whether moral issues can always be interpreted in black or white. It is this ability to so gracefully present multiple sides of a story that reinforces Kidd's reputation as a well-respected modern literary voice. --Gisele Toueg

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Jessie Sullivan, the protagonist of this rewarding second novel by the author of the bestselling Secret Life of Bees, is awakened by a shrilling phone late one night to horrifying news: her mother, who has never recovered from her husband Joe's death 33 years earlier, has chopped off her own finger with a cleaver. Frantic with worry, and apprehensive at the thought of returning to the small island where she grew up in the shadow of her beloved father's death and her mother's fanatical Catholicism, 42-year-old Jessie gets on the next plane, leaving behind her psychiatrist husband, Hugh, and college-age daughter, Dee. On tiny Egret Island, off the coast of South Carolina, Jessie tries to care for her mother, Nelle, who is not particularly eager to be taken care of. Jessie gets help from Nelle's best friends, feisty shopkeeper Kat and Hepzibah, a dignified chronicler of slave history. To complicate matters, Jessie finds herself strangely relieved to be free of a husband she loves—and wildly attracted to Brother Thomas, né Whit O'Conner, a junior monk at the island's secluded Benedictine monastery. Confusing as the present may be, the past is rearing its head, and Jessie, who has never understood why her mother is still distraught by Joe's death, begins to suspect that she's keeping a terrible secret. Writing from the perspective of conflicted, discontented Jessie, Kidd achieves a bold intensity and complexity that wasn't possible in The Secret Life of Bees, narrated by teenage Lily. Jessie's efforts to cope with marital stagnation; Whit's crisis of faith; and Nelle's tormented reckoning with the past will resonate with many readers. This emotionally rich novel, full of sultry, magical descriptions of life in the South, is sure to be another hit for Kidd.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 335 pages
  • Publisher: Viking; First Edition edition (April 5, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0670033944
  • ISBN-13: 978-0670033942
  • Product Dimensions: 5.8 x 1.2 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (825 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #365,899 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Sue Monk Kidd's first novel, The Secret Life of Bees, spent more than one hundred weeks on the New York Times bestseller list, has sold nearly six million copies, and was chosen as the 2004 BookSense Paperback Book of the Year and Good Morning America's "Read This!" Book Club pick. It was adapted into an award-winning movie in 2008. Her second novel, The Mermaid Chair, a #1 New York Times bestseller, won the 2005 Quill Book Award for Best General Fiction and was adapted into a television movie. Her novels have been published in more than thirty countries. She is also the author of several acclaimed memoirs and the recipient of many awards, including a Poets & Writers Award. She lives near Charleston, South Carolina.

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
I read Secret Life of Bees when it first came out, and immediately deemed it as a moderen day classic and one of the best books that I have ever read. Therefore, I could hardly wait to begin The Mermaid Chair.

The novel begins with a promising start and Sue Monk Kidd's descriptions of the island and the ocean itself are absolutely breathtaking. One of her great strengths is her magical way with words and how she can make the reader feel as if you are walking on Egret Island.. This novel is also very rich with its religious symbology and metaphors, as well as some of the explorations of the feminine mystique.


One of the things that blew me away about "Bees" were the too-good-to-be-true characters. Lily was one of the most believable protagonists in years, while the three sisters were incredibly rich characters. However, in Mermaid the characters are sketches of themselves with no real meat. It seems as if Kidd intended these characters to be something more, but only drew them out in pencil.

I liked what I saw of Kat, as well as Benne. But couldn't Kidd have developed them? I would have been so much more attached if she had....

Even Jessie, as the narrator is depicted as shallow and insensitive. I would have loved to have heard more from Nelle instead of her being stereotyped as "the crazy woman". What was her perspective on thing?

As for the romance factor--don't get me wrong. I love romance, but it has to be classy and well done. There has to be a conncection of the characters falling in love, as well as not too much of the lovey-dovey factor. Tracy Chevallier does a very classy job of writing romance, if you want an example.
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Format: Hardcover
Amazon.com's editorial review is so far off base it's stunning. It says "By boldly tackling such major themes as love, betrayal, grief, and forgiveness, The Mermaid Chair forces readers to question whether moral issues can always be interpreted in black or white." I say, what book doesn't "tackle" this issues? They're so universal, few books don't "tackle" them? To say nothing of boldness.

The only thing this book does boldly is advance a quasi-Ayn Rand like "philosophy" that essentially consists of the mantra "Selfishness is good." Well, let me rephrase that. This book toutes subordination to one's every whim and desire and unrepentant selfishness with no thought to external consequences and wraps it up shabbily as the politics of reawakening and philosophy.

If I could communicate one statement to the author, whose "Secret Life Of Bees" was an infinitely more charming book that did not groan under the weight of its preternaturally overburdened excesses and trite ambitions, it would be this: There are probably few protagonists less involving, sympathetic, and interesting than whiny, self-aggrandizing, navel-gazing narcissists.

Reading this review, you might think I don't like books like these. That's not true. Introspection and questioning the fundamentals of one's life as a means to genuine, meaningful, and edifying self-realization and self-actualization can often be a fascinating read. But not this. This is a book about an utterly vapid woman whose obsession with herself and her own thoughts and feelings leads her to some rather shallow and unconvincing experimentations done far better in much older books. You've met people like this. Nothing fascinates them more than themselves, and they're endlessly questioning the meaning of their thoughts, feelings, etc.
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Format: Hardcover
Many people, myself included, were blown away by THE SECRET LIFE OF BEES, Sue Monk Kidd's first offering to the world of contemporary fiction. Many people, myself included, had high expectations when, four years later, Kidd released her second novel, THE MERMAID CHAIR. And what did we hopeful readers get? A disjointed and ridiculous storyline, a thoroughly unlikable heroine, and an overdone cliche that lasts for 352 pages.

THE MERMAID CHAIR tells the story of Jessie Sullivan, a forty-something artist who is bored with her blase life (sound familiar yet?). Her daughter is away at college; her husband, Hugh, a psychiatrist, is loving but busy. On Ash Wednesday of 1988, Jessie gets a call that changes her life forever: Her mother, a devout (almost fanatical) Catholic and a woman still grieving over the death of her husband more than thirty years ago, has cut off her finger with a carving knife, seemingly as penance for some long-ago sin. Jessie, grateful for an excuse to leave her husband, immediately agrees to go stay with her mother on Egret Island off the coast of South Carolina and care for her during her recovery. During the months she stays on the island, Jessie does the following: She falls in love and has an affair with Brother Thomas (a.k.a. Whit), an "almost monk" in the monastery on Egret Island. She reflects on her relationship with her father and learns some painful truths about the real cause of his death. She begins to appreciate the importance of female relationships. She learns more about the Mermaid Chair, a mystical chair at the monastery painted with mermaids and dotted with jewels, and about the myths that inspired its making. And, of course, she gets in touch with herself, discovers who she is, and finds new inspiration to begin painting again.
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