Summary and book reviews of The Mermaid Chair by Sue Monk Kidd

The Mermaid Chair

A Novel

By Sue Monk Kidd

The Mermaid Chair

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About this Book

Book Summary

The luminous new novel from the author of the phenomenal bestseller The Secret Life of Bees.

Sue Monk Kidd’s stunning debut, The Secret Life of Bees, has transformed her into a genuine literary star. Now, in her much-anticipated new novel, Kidd has woven a transcendent tale that will thrill her legion of fans and cement her reputation as one of the most remarkable writers at work today.

Inside the abbey of a Benedictine monastery on tiny Egret Island, just off the coast of South Carolina, resides a beautiful and mysterious chair ornately carved with mermaids and dedicated to a saint who, legend claims, was a mermaid before her conversion. Jessie Sullivan’s conventional life has been "molded to the smallest space possible." So when she is called home to cope with her mother’s startling and enigmatic act of violence, Jessie finds herself relieved to be apart from her husband, Hugh. Jessie loves Hugh, but on Egret Island—amid the gorgeous marshlands and tidal creeks—she becomes drawn to Brother Thomas, a monk who is mere months from taking his final vows. What transpires will unlock the roots of her mother’s tormented past, but most of all, as Jessie grapples with the tension of desire and the struggle to deny it, she will find a freedom that feels overwhelmingly right. 

What inspires the yearning for a soul mate? Few writers have explored, as Kidd does, the lush, unknown region of the feminine soul where the thin line between the spiritual and the erotic exists. The Mermaid Chair is a vividly imagined novel about the passions of the spirit and the ecstasies of the body; one that illuminates a woman’s self-awakening with the brilliance and power that only a writer of Kidd’s ability could conjure.

February 17, 1988, I opened my eyes and heard a procession of sounds: first the phone going off on the opposite side of the bed, rousing us at 5:04 a.m. to what could only be a calamity, then rain pummeling the roof of our old Victorian house, sluicing its sneaky way to the basement, and finally small puffs of air coming from Hugh’s lower lip, each one perfectly timed, like a metronome.  Twenty years of this puffing. I’d heard it when he wasn’t even asleep, when he sat in his leather wing chair after dinner, reading through the column of psychiatric journals rising from the floor, and it would seem like the cadence against which my entire life was set.

The phone rang again, and I lay there, waiting for Hugh to pick up, certain it was one of his patients, probably the paranoid schizophrenic who’d phoned last night convinced the CIA had him cornered in a federal building in downtown Atlanta.

A third ring, and Hugh fumbled for the receiver...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
About This Book

In her remarkable follow-up to the widely acclaimed The Secret Life of Bees, Sue Monk Kidd tells a beautiful and haunting story centered around forty-two-year-old Jessie Sullivan, a woman in quiet crisis whose return home to the island of a mermaid saint becomes a pilgrimage to self-awakening. In this powerful exploration of mid-life marriage and the intersection of the spiritual and the erotic in the feminine soul, Kidd illustrates the sacredness of belonging to oneself and the healing mercy of love and forgiveness.

Jessie’s journey begins in the winter of 1988 when she receives an early-morning call from her mother Nelle’s close friend Kat. Nelle has inexplicably and deliberately severed her own ...
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Reviews

Media Reviews
Kirkus Reviews

Bestselling Kidd (The Secret Life of Bees (2002) has a gift for language, but the saccharine aftertaste won't go away.

Booklist - Kristine Huntley

Kidd's second offering is just as gracefully written as her first and possesses an equally compelling story. It should appeal to the many readers who made her first novel a hit with book clubs.

Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. This emotionally rich novel, full of sultry, magical descriptions of life in the South, is sure to be another hit for Kidd.

Book Page Magazine

Fans of Sue Monk Kidd's best-selling debut novel, The Secret Life of Bees, will be equally enamored with her beguiling sophomore effort....Reconciling the spiritual with the human, The Mermaid Chair is a captivating metaphorical and sensual journey into one woman's soul. Weaving enduring folklore about the seductive and transformative power of mermaids into a modern-day tale of rebirth, the novel shows us that sometimes we need to swim out to sea for the currents to carry us back home."

Reader Reviews
Cloggie Downunder

a memorable read
The Mermaid Chair is the second novel by Sue Monk Kidd. Set on the South Carolina barrier island of Egret, it describes three intense months that change the life of 42-year-old Jessie Sullivan when she returns to her childhood home. Believing she is ...   Read More

Bonnie

The Uncomfortable Mermaid Chair
This book came highly recommended by two women working in the book store where I bought it and, as I'm always looking for new authors to read, I took a chance. My money was not well spent. Usually Penguin is a reliable label, but I'm shocked that...   Read More

Ali

Memory Keeper's Daughter
I loved reading this book. I though it rich in symbolism (the way photography was used to capture the past - his being so complex, yet Carolines's being so simple and authentic). Life can be complicated and I feel that the author did a great job or...   Read More

Brian Deneault

Sue Monk Kidd's Harlequin Romance
The Mermaid Chair reads like a Harlequin Romance, hack-kneed, predictable, trite. I would wager that Kidd was offered at least a two-book deal when she submitted the wonderful Secret Life of Bees but she really couldn't come up with any great ideas ...   Read More

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Beyond the Book

Kidd was born and raised in the tiny town of Sylvester, Georgia. Her writing has been deeply influenced by place, and she mined her experiences of growing up in Sylvester when she wrote she mined her experiences of growing up in Sylvester when she wrote teachers, who described her as a 'born writer', she detoured into nursing ('partly due to a failure of courage and partly due to the cultural climate of the South in 1966') during her twenties.  However, in her thirties (now with a husband and two children) she felt the pull to return to writing and enrolled in a writing class.  One of her personal essays written for class was published in Guideposts Magazine and reprinted in Readers Digest, and ...

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