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The Mermaid Chair

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An alternate cover edition exists here. Sue Monk Kidd's phenomenal debut, The Secret Life of Bees, became a runaway bestseller that is still on the New York Times bestseller list more than two years after its paperback publication. Now, in her luminous new novel, Kidd has woven a transcendent tale that will thrill her legion of fans. Telling the story of Jessie Sullivan -- An alternate cover edition exists here. Sue Monk Kidd's phenomenal debut, The Secret Life of Bees, became a runaway bestseller that is still on the New York Times bestseller list more than two years after its paperback publication. Now, in her luminous new novel, Kidd has woven a transcendent tale that will thrill her legion of fans. Telling the story of Jessie Sullivan -- a love story between a woman and a monk, a woman and her husband, and ultimately a woman and her own soul -- Kidd charts a journey of awakening and self-discovery illuminated with a brilliance that only a writer of her ability could conjure.


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An alternate cover edition exists here. Sue Monk Kidd's phenomenal debut, The Secret Life of Bees, became a runaway bestseller that is still on the New York Times bestseller list more than two years after its paperback publication. Now, in her luminous new novel, Kidd has woven a transcendent tale that will thrill her legion of fans. Telling the story of Jessie Sullivan -- An alternate cover edition exists here. Sue Monk Kidd's phenomenal debut, The Secret Life of Bees, became a runaway bestseller that is still on the New York Times bestseller list more than two years after its paperback publication. Now, in her luminous new novel, Kidd has woven a transcendent tale that will thrill her legion of fans. Telling the story of Jessie Sullivan -- a love story between a woman and a monk, a woman and her husband, and ultimately a woman and her own soul -- Kidd charts a journey of awakening and self-discovery illuminated with a brilliance that only a writer of her ability could conjure.

30 review for The Mermaid Chair

  1. 5 out of 5

    Spudsie

    I did not like this book. That’s not entirely accurate. I loved the religious themes that ran through this book, I loved the stories of growing up on an island, I loved the Mermaid aspect of this story. So why the rating of “did not like?” I’m really tired of stories where the lead character decides they need to drastically change their life. Then they run off through either some decision they consciously make or through some twist of fate (as in this case) to “find” themselves. While finding the I did not like this book. That’s not entirely accurate. I loved the religious themes that ran through this book, I loved the stories of growing up on an island, I loved the Mermaid aspect of this story. So why the rating of “did not like?” I’m really tired of stories where the lead character decides they need to drastically change their life. Then they run off through either some decision they consciously make or through some twist of fate (as in this case) to “find” themselves. While finding themselves they find (surprise!) a new love interest. At this point they find themselves madly and inexplicably in LOVE with someone they met 10 minutes ago. They decide to walk away from a secure (albeit bland) life and a stable (albeit ordinary) lover/spouse who has given them a lifelong commitment. After making the decision to leave the said stable relationship the lead character always (and I mean ALWAYS) manages to convince themselves (and the reader) that it isn’t just “lust” that draws them into this new relationship—oh no, it’s TRUE LOVE. This new person is the person they were meant to be with. So they plunge into this new relationship (often without ending the first one) with great bliss. Headlong into the great unknown. Romping around, rolling in the hay, having a grand ole time convinced they are in love and life will be like this for the rest of their days. Nothing could be better. Nothing could end this bliss. This is what life is meant to be. And then……yep. Then another plot twist either separates the two new lovers, or throws the lead character back into the path of the stable relationship. And lo and behold……it turns out the new relationship isn’t all that great. And the first relationship is what they really need. (Smacks head loudly….d’oh!) And now our beloved lead character leaves the new-found love and goes back to the first love. And they live happily-ever-after. I’m really tired of authors using this device/plot. Really tired of it. I feel it cheapens the importance of marriage or a committed relationship, and makes the lead character (typically a woman) look naive and well, let’s be honest, like an idiot. (Okay…that’s overly harsh. It makes the woman look less than insightful at best.) Let’s call a spade a spade. The lead character wanted to have a steamy affair with their new-found love interest. And they felt guilty because they were already married. So they convinced themselves that they were at a point in their life where they needed to change and they found this amazing new person who could love who they now are. Why not just admit they want to have an affair and damn the consequences? At least have the decency to be honest with themselves and the reader about it. Sigh. Time to step off my soap box. I suppose this book hit me at just the wrong moment. There were parts I loved. But the overall plot frustrates me. It presents a stereo-type of women that doesn’t sit well with me. It is possible to “find” yourself while still honoring your commitments and keeping your integrity intact. And that’s a plot line I’d like to see more of!

  2. 5 out of 5

    Kirk

    This book is so corny it will pass straight through you, undigested.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Ashley

    Read this book as it was a selection for my book club. Although I thoroughly enjoyed "The Secret Life Of Bees" by the same writer, I found this book to be a far different sort of read. In Bees, while I enjoyed the plot, it was the characters that I found myself hooked to. In "The Mermaid Chair" I found the plot to be only mildly entertaining and the characters lacking in development. The main character I found to be whiny, annoying, selfish, and someone I just couldn't connect to on any level. T Read this book as it was a selection for my book club. Although I thoroughly enjoyed "The Secret Life Of Bees" by the same writer, I found this book to be a far different sort of read. In Bees, while I enjoyed the plot, it was the characters that I found myself hooked to. In "The Mermaid Chair" I found the plot to be only mildly entertaining and the characters lacking in development. The main character I found to be whiny, annoying, selfish, and someone I just couldn't connect to on any level. The other characters (Whit, Nelle, Hepzibah, Kat, and Benne) left me disappointed as well, although I did like them more than the protagonist. The latter characters had the potential for being interesting and moving, but still we weren't really allowed to connect to them as the reader, as we didn't get to see them enough. Whit (Brother Thomas) was the most developed of them all, in that you got to see his turmoil over his decision to enter to monestary, but the others were left 2 dimentional. The narration also bothered me. The protagonist was the only character presented to us in the first person. The other narrator's perspectives (Whit and Hugh) were told in the 3rd person. This errked me in that I feel I MAY have been able to connect a little more with the protagonist's plight had the narration been 3rd person. Being 1st, she came across as I stated above: whiny, annoying, and selfish. If anyone wants my copy of the book they are welcome to it. It’s not one I will recommend to anyone and certainly one I won’t reread in the future.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Erin

    After glancing over the goodreads reviews of this book, and seeing how negative they were, I was expecting to dislike, or simply feel apathy for, this book. But I really loved it, surprisingly so. I enjoyed "The Secret Life of Bees", but I didn't connect to the characters as much as I connected to Jessie in this story. This book tackles a difficult subject: how can you fall in love with someone else while still married to a wonderful man who hasn't changed? The goodreads complaints were that Jes After glancing over the goodreads reviews of this book, and seeing how negative they were, I was expecting to dislike, or simply feel apathy for, this book. But I really loved it, surprisingly so. I enjoyed "The Secret Life of Bees", but I didn't connect to the characters as much as I connected to Jessie in this story. This book tackles a difficult subject: how can you fall in love with someone else while still married to a wonderful man who hasn't changed? The goodreads complaints were that Jessie has no reason to fall for another man--her husband is seemingly perfect, and she's just selfish and awful for not wanting him. But I loved the gray areas of the story, and I didn't find myself able to judge her easily (and I'm pretty judgmental!) The story is this: Middle aged artist and housewife Jessie returns to her childhood home off the coast of South Carolina to care for her aging and depressed mother. She has avoided home because of the sad memories she has of her father being killed in an accident when Jessie was a child, and she blames herself for his death. While there, she falls for a Benedictine monk who turns Jessie's life upside down. Kidd writes beautifully, and I read this faster than a lot of other recent novels. I thought she explained (but never excused) Jessie's confused emotions and behaviors realistically--nothing is ever black and white, even love. Especially love. And what she (and the reader) realizes at the end is how much she has closed herself off--from her mother, her husband, and especially herself. I was touched by the character's honesty and her humanity, and I thought it was a beautiful story of how a person has to sink to the very bottom before they can climb their way back to the surface.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Carol

    Very disappointed in this book since I loved "The Secret Life of Bees". The best thing I can say about it is that it is highly readable...an easy summer read. I believe in lust at first site, a spark that makes you want to get to know someone, etc. No matter how hard I tried, I could not wrap myself around the decision of a woman to leave a husband of 20 years and a monk to turn his back on the monastery on the basis of a first glance after which both proclaimed being in love. And if you can't b Very disappointed in this book since I loved "The Secret Life of Bees". The best thing I can say about it is that it is highly readable...an easy summer read. I believe in lust at first site, a spark that makes you want to get to know someone, etc. No matter how hard I tried, I could not wrap myself around the decision of a woman to leave a husband of 20 years and a monk to turn his back on the monastery on the basis of a first glance after which both proclaimed being in love. And if you can't buy into this, then you can't buy into the book. Also, the women characters engage in silly symbolic gestures, the kind that you enjoy at age 10. The author does not let you glean any meaning for yourself. She describes her paintings and then points out their (very) obvious psychological interpretations. I don't think she gives her readers much credit. If a reader wants a simple summer read and finds a forbidden romance titillating, this is the book for you. I would pass, however, if I had it to do again.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Sammy

    I bought this book when I went with my mother to go hear Sue Monk Kidd speak. Let me tell you, she speaks as eloquently as she writes. She's also just as witty. After hearing her speak, I realized that a lot of her personality comes through in her writing. Her amazing writing. She spoke of how she felt The Mermaid Chair was going to be often compared to The Secret Life of Bees and maybe wouldn't be able to live up to the high praise it's earned so far. She also worried about the characters being I bought this book when I went with my mother to go hear Sue Monk Kidd speak. Let me tell you, she speaks as eloquently as she writes. She's also just as witty. After hearing her speak, I realized that a lot of her personality comes through in her writing. Her amazing writing. She spoke of how she felt The Mermaid Chair was going to be often compared to The Secret Life of Bees and maybe wouldn't be able to live up to the high praise it's earned so far. She also worried about the characters being too similar. I don't think Sue has anything to worry about. The only thing the two books have in common is the author's writing... a beautiful, flowing and engaging style. I think I like Sue's style so much because it has the right amount of description for things, her dialogue is realistic, and when you think about it her stories seem so outlandish, but when reading it you can see it actually happening. Her writing is also very eloquent and deep, but fun and witty at the same time. There are no characters in The Mermaid Chair that are reminiscent of any in The Secret Life of Bees, and specifically what Kidd was worried about was people might roll there eyes at another pack of strong female characters taking presidence in the book. I didn't and don't see any problem in that. We need as many strong literary female characters as we can get. And these women, that you grow to love, are as strong as they come. The way the love story was written out was also so wonderful. You find yourself feeling for Jessie's dilemna of being in love with two men. Kidd doesn't write it so you're leaning towards one man over the other (well, you may be, but it's honestly hard to choose) because both men are so likeable and good-looking and genuinely care for Jessie. And though Hugh is the only one painted as having any flaws, they're pointed out to us by Jessie who, after twenty years of marriage, has come to find some things he does annoying, which she later comes to realize (and we know) are more endearing. Personally, I liked The Secret Life of Bees over The Mermaid Chair because I just found that one more interesting... but The Mermaid Chair was just as engaging and well-written as it's predecessor. It's really up to you to choose which one you like better. The Mermaid Chair definitely holds it's own.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Carrie

    terrible. Middle-life crisis dribble. It was like gargling salt water.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Books Ring Mah Bell

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. NO. NO! Give me a break. There is NOT love at first sight. LUST. Not love! Whatever. That just pisses me off and sets a pissy tone for the rest of the book. Bored woman goes to take care of crazy mom on island that is full of monks. Woman sees monk says "oh, I'm in love, he's part of my soul!" Monk sees woman and decides he's in love. (had nothing to do with not getting any for several years) They screw like rabbits, she decides to stay with her husband and he decides not to take his final vows. Oh, NO. NO! Give me a break. There is NOT love at first sight. LUST. Not love! Whatever. That just pisses me off and sets a pissy tone for the rest of the book. Bored woman goes to take care of crazy mom on island that is full of monks. Woman sees monk says "oh, I'm in love, he's part of my soul!" Monk sees woman and decides he's in love. (had nothing to do with not getting any for several years) They screw like rabbits, she decides to stay with her husband and he decides not to take his final vows. Oh, and mom reveals reason for dad's death... no longer crazy. blah blah blah. Sorry this is a craptastic review, but the whole "love at first" sight stuff got me all grouchy.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Kathryn Bashaar

    The main character in this book just seemed like a whiner to me. Boo hoo, my husband won't "let" me be myself. Ummm, let's see, is it his job to "let" you be yourself, or was that your job all your life while he was supporting the family so you could putz around decorating your lovely victorian house and messing with your little collages that never go anywhere? I found nothing wrong with her husband. He seemed like an intelligent, sensitive guy, and the minute he lets her out of his sight she bo The main character in this book just seemed like a whiner to me. Boo hoo, my husband won't "let" me be myself. Ummm, let's see, is it his job to "let" you be yourself, or was that your job all your life while he was supporting the family so you could putz around decorating your lovely victorian house and messing with your little collages that never go anywhere? I found nothing wrong with her husband. He seemed like an intelligent, sensitive guy, and the minute he lets her out of his sight she boinking a monk. This is her solution to him not "letting" her be herself. Gimme a break. Plus, this is the second book Kidd wrote with wierd new-Agey, quasi-feminist quasi-religious rituals in them. It might seem deep to some people but to me it just seems frivolous and hokey. Religion is serious business. throwing threads in the ocean and holding hands is just girlish silliness compared to a real religion. I'm not sure what the point of this stuff is supposed to be. Like my reviews? Check out my blog at http://www.kathrynbashaar.com/blog/

  10. 4 out of 5

    Cynthia

    I loved this book, but reading most of the reviews, it seems like most people hated this book. I do think "The Secret Life of Bees" was better--I enjoyed the characters and storyline in Bees more so than "The Mermaid Chair." The main character of Jessie drove me crazy sometimes because, as everyone thinks, she could be so selfish sometimes when it came to her mother and her husband. True, it's a little unbelievable Jessie would choose to pretty much ignore her mother's mental state and spend mos I loved this book, but reading most of the reviews, it seems like most people hated this book. I do think "The Secret Life of Bees" was better--I enjoyed the characters and storyline in Bees more so than "The Mermaid Chair." The main character of Jessie drove me crazy sometimes because, as everyone thinks, she could be so selfish sometimes when it came to her mother and her husband. True, it's a little unbelievable Jessie would choose to pretty much ignore her mother's mental state and spend most of her time and energy in love with a monk. But when you think about it, their relationship had been strained for a long time and people can be in denial and choose distraction over reality. In fact, I'm surprised Nelle and Jessie didn't get into more fights after their long estranged relationship. I didn't feel like Hepzibah's character added anything substantial to the ladies' frienship or the novel. Lastly, I did not understand this great "love" between Jessie and Whit. To me it wasn't love but a selfish act both felt like they needed to indulge in. Readers remember the shoe salesman question? Despite all these complaints, which seem to concern a lot of the main points of "The Mermaid Chair," I loved all the small things about this novel--all the background stuff. What I enjoyed about this book were the tales of the mermaid and the mermaid chair, the town's annual mermaid chair ritual, Max the eternal dog, Kat "the no nonsense" best friend, descriptions of Jessie's box artwork and her mermaid paintings, the island's topography, the descriptions of Jessie, Dee, and Hugh's birthday follies, and most of all the touching memories between Jessie and her father. The last plot twist about Jessie's father surprised me. I for one did not see it coming.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Wormie

    Dear Sue, What were you thinking? I don’t want to be mean, but “The Mermaid Chair” isn’t your best work. Your first novel, “The Secret Life of Bees” was wonderful – full of imagery and emotion. I was expecting more of your magic, but “The Mermaid Chair” is just another novel about a middle-aged woman in a rut. You explore some compelling ideas: marriage, infidelity, betrayal, guilt, forgiveness, grief and faith, but you don’t really add anything to that oh-so-told story. You wrap the issues in a Dear Sue, What were you thinking? I don’t want to be mean, but “The Mermaid Chair” isn’t your best work. Your first novel, “The Secret Life of Bees” was wonderful – full of imagery and emotion. I was expecting more of your magic, but “The Mermaid Chair” is just another novel about a middle-aged woman in a rut. You explore some compelling ideas: marriage, infidelity, betrayal, guilt, forgiveness, grief and faith, but you don’t really add anything to that oh-so-told story. You wrap the issues in a story so farfetched that it reads like a poorly-made TV movie. Without going into every detail look at the story: Jessie Sullivan - forty-something wife, mother, artist - living comfortably but without great passion. Suddenly, a family emergency throws her into a period of self-reflection. Her mother chops off a finger - intentionally. As Jessie goes to help her mother, a woman with whom she has a strained relationship, she questions her marriage, starts an affair with a Benedictine monk, and discovers secrets from her past. The story starts as clich�, veers into absurdity (not just a crazy mother, but a crazy self-mutilating mother – not just an affair, but an affair with a monk) and ends with the too-familiar new beginning where nothing is the same, but our heroine has found peace. You ask us to accept this as a vehicle to explore deep emotional and personal choices; it just doesn't work. Don’t tell us a story – let us feel something. Let us get into the characters’ heads and understand their emotional journey. Everything in “The Mermaid Chair” was a narration – something to be told, not something to experience. I didn’t get to know any of the characters. I didn’t get to feel their emotion. I certainly didn’t like any of them, except, maybe, Max the dog who seems like a really good-hearted fellow. You worked in some legend and mysticism. The imagery and symbolism of mermaids was nice, as was much of your descriptions of nature, but when it comes down to meat and potatoes, your novel was rather bland. Readers who want another story of female mid-life angst can get their hit from an hour of Oprah; they don’t have to invest time in your book. Lately it seems like several of my favorite authors are resting on their past success, spitting out mediocre novels knowing that their name will sell the book. You’ve proven that you’re a writer with a unique vision and voice. We, your readers, want more of the magic that you shared with us in “Bees”. Don’t be afraid to challenge us with new ideas, and don’t be afraid to challenge the stereotypes of women’s literature. Love, Wormie WBS!

  12. 4 out of 5

    Shelly

    Not nearly as inspirational or moving as author's first novel, Secret Life of Bees. Although VERY well written the subject matter was not pleasing and almost distasteful. I liked the monks side of the story and can more readily understand why he did what he did. In his case he was questioning his faith, his existence, everything and was reaching out to anything that might pull him back to Life. In the woman's case, she was simply bored and unfulfilled in her marriage and was searching for self r Not nearly as inspirational or moving as author's first novel, Secret Life of Bees. Although VERY well written the subject matter was not pleasing and almost distasteful. I liked the monks side of the story and can more readily understand why he did what he did. In his case he was questioning his faith, his existence, everything and was reaching out to anything that might pull him back to Life. In the woman's case, she was simply bored and unfulfilled in her marriage and was searching for self rather than any meaning of Life. Anytime we put self ahead of all else we lose sight of everything meaningful. It's okay to do for yourself once in while - to refill your 'well' in order to give more to others but when the focus becomes totally inward we quickly lose sight of what's around us and miss our opportunities to serve and uplift others. The woman in the story was selfish and self-absorbed and hurt the people she loved most. Although I think perhaps she "got it" at the end of the novel I didn't much care for the journey.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Christine Nolfi

    In The Mermaid Chair, Sue Monk Kidd provides one of the finest opening lines in any novel. A beautiful story about the choices and challenges women face in middle age.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Lindsey

    This probably isn't the best time to write a review of this book since I just finished it a few hours ago and am still quite upset by it. The reason I began the book was because of the name, first of all, and also the story takes place on an island right off the coast of South Carolina. I grew up in South Carolina and miss it very much and so I started reading. The first part of the book dragged a little, although I loved the descriptions of the south and the ocean. As the book picked up I began This probably isn't the best time to write a review of this book since I just finished it a few hours ago and am still quite upset by it. The reason I began the book was because of the name, first of all, and also the story takes place on an island right off the coast of South Carolina. I grew up in South Carolina and miss it very much and so I started reading. The first part of the book dragged a little, although I loved the descriptions of the south and the ocean. As the book picked up I began to feel torn as to whether or not I was disgusted by the main character or recognized parts of my past self in her. Perhaps a little of both. While I've finished the book and restrained myself from throwing it across the room (I did check it out from the library afterall), I find myself questioning the strength of marriage and trust...once again. I dog-eared a few pages that I felt were simply poetic. Here is one of those quotes that I particularly appreciate. "These paroxysms were, I realized later, a kind of aftershock. They would come and go for weeks, moments of violent disorientation in which I couldn't recognize myself, completely breaking apart how I understood my life, all the joints and couplings that held it together. It was the peculiar vertigo, the peculiar humility, that comes from realizing what you are really capable of. Those aftershocks would gradually taper off, but in the beginning they could almost paralyze me." p.201

  15. 5 out of 5

    Frank

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. I first gave this book 4 stars as I struggled with how much I truly liked it. Now, several weeks later sitting to write a brief review, I found that it's multiple themes continue to resonate with me, and I added the 5th star. I found the imagery of the island setting, and the mom's house, and the church, and the outdoor scenes, just wonderful. Using the Sue Monk Kidd's own form of art (writing) to parallel her main character's art (painting), SMK put me in her story. Then the characters were als I first gave this book 4 stars as I struggled with how much I truly liked it. Now, several weeks later sitting to write a brief review, I found that it's multiple themes continue to resonate with me, and I added the 5th star. I found the imagery of the island setting, and the mom's house, and the church, and the outdoor scenes, just wonderful. Using the Sue Monk Kidd's own form of art (writing) to parallel her main character's art (painting), SMK put me in her story. Then the characters were also vivid in their struggles and, more pertinent to the story, their mistakes. While I sensed at the midpoint that, while I thought I saw what was coming and what I saw left me feeling it would not "end well" for the main characters, the author pulled off the upset by making what I thought would me "not well" into a wonderfully melancholy and hopeful ending. Not a bang, but something softer, and something almost sensible, and still very sweet. But not an ending with a tidy little bow, because you are left to wonder, and maybe to hope, that it ends well. No other ending would have made sense for me, as much as I wanted another ending earlier in the book. We all have likely struggled with a decision or two that would change the course of our lives. The Mermaid Chair reminds us that there are no guarantees that there are easy answers to tough questions. There are often easy choices, but too often the right choices are the tougher choices. The affair in the book symbolizes to me the "easy" choices that we "want" to make. The fantasy life we pretend we can have. However, the affair is ultimately seen by the main character for what it was - a temporary cure for a symptom rather than a cure for a condition. I believe there are too many real world similarities where the symptoms are continually treated at the expense of the emotional condition that remains untreated, which is why I found the ending to be bittersweet. She resolved herself to overcoming her condition of wanting "more" or at least "different" and began to see what was in front of her from the beginning. I had not read SMK previously, and was led to this book by someone who had. I am thankful for both that friend and now this book. Wow, that was some rambling. If you are still reading, I loved the book. More a coupe of months later after skimming it again than I did after reading it the first time.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Jessica

    Well this bored me to tears. Empty pointless story. It had slight potential but it seemed the author was not skilled enough to get anywhere near pulling it off. It was so bad that it made me wonder if a ghostwriter was used for The Secret Life of Bees, I just can't fathom how these are written by the same person.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Rachel

    I usually just drop my stars and run, but after realizing this is one of the lowest-rated books I've ever seen on Goodreads, I feel like I have to justify myself in liking it as much as I did. This novel is beautifully written. And sometimes, if a novel is written really, really well, I find myself almost not caring what it's saying (*almost*). I just like the way it's saying it, if that makes sense. It was constructed so well, and written so beautifully, that I was more caught up in the words th I usually just drop my stars and run, but after realizing this is one of the lowest-rated books I've ever seen on Goodreads, I feel like I have to justify myself in liking it as much as I did. This novel is beautifully written. And sometimes, if a novel is written really, really well, I find myself almost not caring what it's saying (*almost*). I just like the way it's saying it, if that makes sense. It was constructed so well, and written so beautifully, that I was more caught up in the words than in the story itself. With that said, I *did* enjoy the story, too. I loved the history with Jessie's father and his mysterious death, and her mother's unraveling. I loved how it came together at the end. I loved the friendship between Nelle, Kat, and Hepzibah, I loved the quirky little stories from Jessie's childhood, Whit and his honesty/confusion about his spirituality, and I loved seeing how Jessie's art opened up as the novel progressed. The way she captured Jessie's marriage and home life was so spot-on that I wondered if this was semi-autobiographical for the author. I noticed a few reviewers commenting that they were tired of this whole concept, that a bored, dissatisfied wife runs off and falls in love immediately with someone she met 2 minutes ago, has a wild and unrepentant sexual romp, then realizes she misses her home life (which was never bad enough to condone leaving it behind in the first place), and returns without any real consequences. And that is *exactly* what happened in this novel, but here's the thing: I haven't read any of these novels before. I can see how this would be SO annoying to see done again and again. But this was my first time with it, so I think I was a lot more patient with it than I would have been if I'd read this sort of thing before. And although I hate that whole idea, I have to admit, I didn't find myself judging Jessie very harshly. I can absolutely see how a person who has spent her entire adult life making her family's lives possible finds herself feeling lost and alone and without an identity. I'm a stay-at-home mom of 2 young kids right now. Their wants and needs occupy my ENTIRE existence. It's not much of a stretch for me to imagine that a wife and mother not unlike myself could feel totally lost and completely empty with this role. I could understand Jessie's motivations and why she made the choices she did. I wasn't rooting for her to mess around with Whit, but I could understand why she did. BUT. And this is a fairly big BUT. I'm not sure I understand why sex had to be a component of her 'reawakening,' or whatever you want to call it. From a feminist perspective, I'm kind of bothered that she went straight from a somewhat male-dominated home environment to escape to . . . sex with a different dude, which fixed everything and gave her an identity again. Couldn't this person who helped her find herself, rediscover her passion and excitement for life, just as easily have been a close friend? Someone whose guidance and friendship helped her realize all the things that had been missing from her life (not including sex with a guy she met 10 pages ago)? I could see Kat or Hepzibah, her mother's old friends, filling that role without creating any sort of problem with her home and family life. Or even her mother--what if helping guide her daughter helped pull her away from her insanity? Gosh, it even could have been Whit . . . couldn't they have had some sort of relationship without it turning into a full-blown affair? Maybe this would have come across as cheesy somehow, and definitely wouldn't have been as exciting or dramatic of a story. But I guess I'm not sure that sex needed to be a necessary component of the story. It was heartbreaking to see the novel develop, to find yourself going along with Jessie and rationalizing, "Ok, this is all right, she's not doing anything SO terribly wrong, I can see why she's doing this," and then get to the chapter from her husband's perspective and see that this choice she made SHATTERED him. Also bugged that there were no real consequences after her affair. Her husband was mad for like 8 pages, and then everything was more or less okay. And her apology--"I'm sorry if I hurt you" or something pathetic like that. Totally unrepentant, which again, I realize was part of her 'development' or whatever, but still. Yuck. All things considered, I can absolutely see why so many people were so annoyed by this book. I didn't like the affair, and I didn't like the lack of consequences after, or her lack of remorse. BUT I also couldn't really hate Jessie for making the choices she did. And I thought it was all so well written and well constructed and insightful that I didn't give tons of weight to those aspects.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Kristi

    I loved this book. I could see its story being a beautiful, quirky movie. With not the greatest of goodreads ratings, I am mystified as to why. Sue Monk Kidd is such a graceful, intelligent, free-spirited writer. I suggest readers of this book abandon cynicism and daily reality doldrums and instead embrace your heart full of dreams and folklore, with the open understanding of others' life choices. This novel, full of artful mermaid, ocean love, is relevant and faithful, an inquisitive bookclub c I loved this book. I could see its story being a beautiful, quirky movie. With not the greatest of goodreads ratings, I am mystified as to why. Sue Monk Kidd is such a graceful, intelligent, free-spirited writer. I suggest readers of this book abandon cynicism and daily reality doldrums and instead embrace your heart full of dreams and folklore, with the open understanding of others' life choices. This novel, full of artful mermaid, ocean love, is relevant and faithful, an inquisitive bookclub choice, and such a visual sea-full and soulful journey of independence.

  19. 4 out of 5

    dianne

    This is a ridiculous story about a selfish conceited person having a midlife crisis and really not caring much about the damage her decisions make. Totally unrealistic men: her cuckolded husband (on learning the truth): “..he’d hoped his suffering was not being squandered, that somewhere inside it was making him pliant and tender.” Right. That’s just where most men go - gosh i hope this makes me soft and fluffy. Right after the homicide thing. At one point she admits to relating to the princess a This is a ridiculous story about a selfish conceited person having a midlife crisis and really not caring much about the damage her decisions make. Totally unrealistic men: her cuckolded husband (on learning the truth): “..he’d hoped his suffering was not being squandered, that somewhere inside it was making him pliant and tender.” Right. That’s just where most men go - gosh i hope this makes me soft and fluffy. Right after the homicide thing. At one point she admits to relating to the princess and the pea - my all time least favorite tale. On 30 mattresses and STILL the bed’s not soft enough?: “I felt as if I’d found the fairytale pea”. Pretty much everyone else in the story is more interesting and compelling than our protagonist (i use the word loosely). Ugh.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Kathy

    From a blog post I wrote in 2005: If you've read The Secret Life of Bees, Sue Monk Kidd's first novel, you probably have high expectations for her latest work, The Mermaid Chair. Bees was beautifully written and made you care about the characters so much that you were sorry to have to leave them at the end of the story. I hope she writes a sequel. Mermaid Chair has some of the same elements as Bees: quirky characters, long held secrets, romance and long time friendships. But, I didn't feel the lov From a blog post I wrote in 2005: If you've read The Secret Life of Bees, Sue Monk Kidd's first novel, you probably have high expectations for her latest work, The Mermaid Chair. Bees was beautifully written and made you care about the characters so much that you were sorry to have to leave them at the end of the story. I hope she writes a sequel. Mermaid Chair has some of the same elements as Bees: quirky characters, long held secrets, romance and long time friendships. But, I didn't feel the love so much. It was an interesting enough story but I never connected to the main character, a woman in her 40s who's feeling distanced from her marriage/husband and who has to return to her hometown to care for her crazy/ill/somewhat estranged Mother. The hometown is actually an island off of South Carolina and home to a Monastery. Our heroine becomes romantically involved with one of the monks while uncovering secrets about her family. Yeah, I didn't care so much about how it turned out. If you haven't read The Secret Life of Bees, I recommend it highly. As to The Mermaid Chair, it would make for a good airplane book but I wouldn't suggest you go out of your way to read it.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Maureen Brunner

    When I saw that this book was on the goodreads "unpopular" shelve, I decided to write a review on why I liked this book. I have a thing about sticking up for an underdog. Probably the most stated reason that this book is unpopular is because readers compare and contrast it to the author's previous award winning work, The Secret Life of Bees. I think that people who loved the Secret Life must have anticipated that Monk Kidd's follow up would somehow cater to the same audience, and then they were When I saw that this book was on the goodreads "unpopular" shelve, I decided to write a review on why I liked this book. I have a thing about sticking up for an underdog. Probably the most stated reason that this book is unpopular is because readers compare and contrast it to the author's previous award winning work, The Secret Life of Bees. I think that people who loved the Secret Life must have anticipated that Monk Kidd's follow up would somehow cater to the same audience, and then they were disappointed. I have not yet completely read the Secret Life, but my English Department is picking it up as a contemporary novel for the curriculum. The decision to make this book required reading for YA's alone tells me that these two books are in totally separate interest categories. So, why did I like this book? Probably because I loved the setting and could identify with the main character Jesse. If you hold at least four of the six following qualifications you may well like this book: 1 - 30 to 40 something female 2 - Raised Catholic 3 - Love stories about east coast U.S. and old island settlements 4 - Been married for 10+ years 5 - Have a least one child within a few years of of leaving the nest And this one is not necessary, but it helps... 6 - Have a family story about a kinswoman being involved with an ex Benedictine priest (no, this is not me, but there is a story in my family tree). I can well understand that many readers don't fit more than two or three of these descriptions, but I happen to be that reader and the Mermaid Chair just happens to be a book for someone like me.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Arielle Walker

    Maybe it was just the wrong time to have read this book, but I hated the main character, found the "instant-love" ridiculous and decided that though the writing wasn't too bad the story is too contrived to actually be any good.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Jan

    Horrible new age romantic schlock with a side of southern gothic. On the plus side, it makes a great hate read, and your eye-roll muscles will get a fine workout.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Alissa

    I picked this up at the faaaaabulous Reno book sale, and I'm not sure why. I really hated this same author's "The Secret Life of Bees," but I figured it'd be worth a try. I was surprised to find that I liked it, even if it read like a mixture of the Thorn Birds and a Lifetime movie. It's about a woman in her forties who is bored with her life. Her mom, who lives back on ye olde island that the daughter never goes back to (her dad died, all kinds of bad memories, yada yada), has cut off her finge I picked this up at the faaaaabulous Reno book sale, and I'm not sure why. I really hated this same author's "The Secret Life of Bees," but I figured it'd be worth a try. I was surprised to find that I liked it, even if it read like a mixture of the Thorn Birds and a Lifetime movie. It's about a woman in her forties who is bored with her life. Her mom, who lives back on ye olde island that the daughter never goes back to (her dad died, all kinds of bad memories, yada yada), has cut off her finger with a meat cleaver. She goes back to take care of her mom, deal with the island, deal with her husband's death, and, oh yeah, have daily sex with a monk who's questioning his relationship with God. Kinda trashy but the writing is actually pretty decent, and it was enjoyable to read. However, the author likes to use symbolism but doesn't trust that her readers understand it, so a lot of time is spent telling us things we could probably figure out, for example, that water is a symbol of sensuality. Even if you didn't know that in the beginning, you'd know it after ten pages of reading about the intensely erotic relationship the main character has with it and the many erotic paintings she has created in an erotic, watery, sensuous kind of way. Because the water, you see, is erotic. And sensuous. And it makes her sensual and whole again. In a very erotic way. Like water. That said, it's enjoyable book to read. I applaud the author trying to get deep, and there's some nice writing, but gawd, someone tell her to stop hitting her readers over the head with the metaphorical stick. Or maybe it's an erotic stick. I'll have to get back to you on that one.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Carolyn F.

    I'll start this review by saying I usually steer clear of books with adultery. Makes me too uncomfortable. I started this audiobook not knowing it was about adultery until I was already engrossed in it. I thought to myself, it's fiction, it doesn't have to be your Pollyanna view of the world. So I kept listening to the audiobook and I'm glad I did. First of all Eliza Foss, the narrator, was great, both Southern and male voices. Jessie's mother has cut off her finger purposely and so Jessie goes t I'll start this review by saying I usually steer clear of books with adultery. Makes me too uncomfortable. I started this audiobook not knowing it was about adultery until I was already engrossed in it. I thought to myself, it's fiction, it doesn't have to be your Pollyanna view of the world. So I kept listening to the audiobook and I'm glad I did. First of all Eliza Foss, the narrator, was great, both Southern and male voices. Jessie's mother has cut off her finger purposely and so Jessie goes to where her mother lives and where she grew up to see if she can find out what's happening. She hasn't been there in a long time. She and her mother had this strange falling out about a robe with a dragon on it that didn't seem like the line in the sand they made it out to be. Jessie's also using this as a way to have a time out from her husband Hugh. She feels like she's drifting without any real purpose. While on the island, she falls in love with a monk who hasn't taken his final vows and they begin a very intense affair. Jessie also seems to fall back in love with the island. There are some family secrets that are revealed. Also Jessie comes to the point where she needs to decide whether she should live her life with or without Hugh or Thomas (Whit), she just can't seem to make up her mind where she wants her life to lead. Very good book. First time reading this author. I would recommend it.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Ti

    Jesse goes back home, to visit with her mother who is apparently cutting off her fingers in a rash display of abnormal behavior. While on the island, she comes across a monk that she eventually falls in love with. The problem is that Nell is married and has a grown daughter. The story goes back and forth between caring for the mother and the love affair between Nell and the monk. It is not very well written, and at times reminded me a lot of the "Ya Ya Sisterhood". Everything seemed very "surfac Jesse goes back home, to visit with her mother who is apparently cutting off her fingers in a rash display of abnormal behavior. While on the island, she comes across a monk that she eventually falls in love with. The problem is that Nell is married and has a grown daughter. The story goes back and forth between caring for the mother and the love affair between Nell and the monk. It is not very well written, and at times reminded me a lot of the "Ya Ya Sisterhood". Everything seemed very "surface". In between the loose fragments of story there was a tale about a Mermaid Chair and the author kept going back to it but I never really felt it tied the story lines together other than providing an island backdrop for the story. Initially I didn't mind it too much as it is Summer, and it was based on an island.. seemed like easy reading, but then it got silly and didn't really amount to anything. I don't think I will read another book by this author again.

  27. 4 out of 5

    patricia

    that sue monk kid might be a one hit wonder..just joking but secrt lives of bees was an all time fav for me and i was extremely disappointed in this book. did not connect with character at all. save your money buy the second book from the author of the kite runner...he proved himself with his second novel.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Leigh

    This was just the summer tale I needed about a girl returning home, having a total breakdown while dealing with her mother’s breakdown and confronting all of her demons at once. Oh yeah, there is also an affair with a monk and mermaids. I love the scene where she makes an oath to herself in a sort of marriage ceremony promising to love herself first and most of all. I think we can all take a tip from her on that one ☝🏻🧜♀ This was just the summer tale I needed about a girl returning home, having a total breakdown while dealing with her mother’s breakdown and confronting all of her demons at once. Oh yeah, there is also an affair with a monk and mermaids. I love the scene where she makes an oath to herself in a sort of marriage ceremony promising to love herself first and most of all. I think we can all take a tip from her on that one ☝🏻🧜‍♀️

  29. 5 out of 5

    William

    I really wanted to like this book and after being pleasantly surprised (and touched) by "The Secret Life of Bees" I was pretty eager to read it. Having said that, I didn't dislike it. I guess disappointed is the word. I was disappointed in the characters, the themes, the motivations and the plot overall. The characters seemed stock/shallow and a bit forced with the only believable one of the lot being the poor husband (and the friend’s “off” daughter, who was a hoot...we needed more of her) and I really wanted to like this book and after being pleasantly surprised (and touched) by "The Secret Life of Bees" I was pretty eager to read it. Having said that, I didn't dislike it. I guess disappointed is the word. I was disappointed in the characters, the themes, the motivations and the plot overall. The characters seemed stock/shallow and a bit forced with the only believable one of the lot being the poor husband (and the friend’s “off” daughter, who was a hoot...we needed more of her) and the dog. Nothing is really explained and while I understand that impulses don't always warrant explanation, it still left me feeling a bit used up and frustrated. The sex scenes were especially tedious and sometimes I almost felt as if this was a serious confessional (but I also think I’m a bit of a prude). I found myself plodding along because it wasn't a very long book in hopes that at some point it would suddenly make sense. And don't get me wrong, Sue Monk Kidd has talent, there are some brilliant passages here, beautiful and moving and as real as anything you'd like. The mystery of the mother and her self mutilation was quite intriguing as well as various "touched upon" descriptions of the island (like the slave cemetery). But overall it was a bit of a let down and I may have expected too much of it because of the previous read. So I apologize for wanting that "heck yeah!" feeling I got with "Secret Life of Bees" and should have just let this one present itself on its own without pretext.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Krizia Anna

    This book is in the middle of an almost favorite to favorite book. I just loved how it was written and the story itself was really really good. It made me cry and thought me a lot about change, love, forgiveness and also about SELF-DISCOVERY. This is a woman's book, a mommy book and I loved it. However, it was hard for me to accept that the woman is having an affair with a Benedictine MONK. I'm a Catholic and was educated in a Benedictine school. I'm not usually conservative when it comes to sto This book is in the middle of an almost favorite to favorite book. I just loved how it was written and the story itself was really really good. It made me cry and thought me a lot about change, love, forgiveness and also about SELF-DISCOVERY. This is a woman's book, a mommy book and I loved it. However, it was hard for me to accept that the woman is having an affair with a Benedictine MONK. I'm a Catholic and was educated in a Benedictine school. I'm not usually conservative when it comes to stories and plots but it was really hard to swallow. What I do is pretend that Whit was a fisherman and not a monk. It was just to weird for me, but its a good book nonetheless. If you have an open-mind, you might love it.

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