The Mermaid Chair

Kobo eBook available

read instantly on your Kobo or tablet.

buy the ebook now

The Mermaid Chair

by Sue Monk Kidd

Penguin Publishing Group | March 7, 2006 | Trade Paperback

The Mermaid Chair is rated 3.8421 out of 5 by 19.
The New York Times–bestselling second novel by the author of The Secret Life of Bees and The Invention of Wings (Viking, January 2014)

Inside the church of a Benedictine monastery on 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.

When Jessie Sullivan is summoned home to the island to cope with her eccentric mother’s seemingly inexplicable behavior, she is living a conventional life with her husband, Hugh, a life “molded to the smallest space possible.” Jessie loves Hugh, but once on the island, she finds herself drawn to Brother Thomas, a monk about to take his final vows. Amid a rich community of unforgettable island women and the exotic beauty of marshlands, tidal creeks, and majestic egrets, Jessie grapples with the tension of desire and the struggle to deny it, with a freedom that feels overwhelmingly right and the immutable force of home and marriage.

Is the power of the mermaid chair only a myth? Or will it alter the course of Jessie’s life? What happens will unlock the roots of her mother’s tormented past, but most of all, it will allow Jessie to comes discover selfhood and a place of belonging as she explores the thin line between the spiritual and the erotic.

Format: Trade Paperback

Dimensions: 368 pages, 7.75 × 5.07 × 0.61 in

Published: March 7, 2006

Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group

Language: English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10: 0143036696

ISBN - 13: 9780143036692

Found in: Fiction and Literature

save 9%

  • In stock online
$18.00 list price

$16.38 ea online

eGift this item

Give this item in the form of an eGift Card.

+ what is this?

This item is eligible for FREE SHIPPING on orders over $25.
See details

Easy, FREE returns. See details

Item can only be shipped in Canada

Downloads instantly to your kobo or other ereading device. See details

All available formats:

Check store inventory (prices may vary)

Reviews

Rated 3 out of 5 by from Decent Read This book was ok but I didn't love it. If you have a free copy read it, but I wouldn't buy it.
Date published: 2012-01-08
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Satisfactory This was a fun read, but like with most chick lits I read, I figured out the plot -middle book-. So there was no real surprise or twists. It has a "woman power" feeling to it, so it's good to read and discuss with your girlfriends.
Date published: 2010-08-19
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Liked it! I watched the T.V movie with Kim Basinger and I have to say the book just was alittle too close to the film or rather it was the other-way around. I thought the book was well written but I just could LOVE it.
Date published: 2010-01-17
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Wonderful! It's such a different novel from anything I've ever read. I did happen to watch the movie that was on TV based on this book the other day and it didn't do the book any justice! It's become one of my favourite books and I encourage anyone else to read it! It's such a mixed up love story. It'll make you cry and wonder and feel so much for the characters. I loved it!!!!
Date published: 2008-09-28
Rated 4 out of 5 by from A touch of love and craziness The Mermaid chair was one of the novels that inspired me to read more frequently. Jesse Egret's mother severed her finger fro no apparent reason. When Jesse returns to the island to take care of her mother, she ends up falling in love. Still, her mother hasn't finished amputating herself... Sue Kidd weaved love and myth to harmonise in her book. The Mermaid chair is a fantastic story to read!
Date published: 2008-09-24
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Beautiful I wish there are more books as beautifully written as this one. Definitely love it with all my heart. Too good a book to give you a spoiler. Go and enjoy it!
Date published: 2007-12-16
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent Excellent book. I would definitely read this book again and recommend others to read also. The reason why I enjoyed this book so much as it relates to how a middle aged married woman and mother of one is living her life. She meets a monk and they have a steamy love affair. She has lived her life looking after her husband, and her daughter, and now she is caring and pampering herself. She is looking after herself. The characters in this book are great, and a little humour is also acknowledged, which adds a twist to this novel. Great book.
Date published: 2006-08-01
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Awful The Secret life of Bees is one of my all time favourite books and I thought I would love the Mermaid Chair too but I couldn't even finish this book. A book has to be pretty bad for me not to finish it. I didn't see any similarity between the stories like others have said but I wasn't looking for the same story. I was hoping for interesting characters and a touching story of humanity. All I found in this book was boring characters and a predictable story.
Date published: 2006-07-31
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Forced to finish This was a selection by my book club and I was excited to read it but was trully disappointed. I found the protagonist to be self indulgent and childish. She was unable to distinguish lust from love , and instead of trying to solve her feelings of disillusionment with life, she simply avoided them by having an ill conceived affair. To me, this novel was an example of 'chick-lit' at it's worst, and I had to force myself to finish it.
Date published: 2006-07-25
Rated 5 out of 5 by from wow What a great character, a little older and still unsure. Beautifully written with a story that stays with you.
Date published: 2006-07-22
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Grips you from the start and carries you through I thought the story was unique and the pain of life so revealing. My heart was captured and now I look forward to reading"The Secret Lives of Bees"
Date published: 2006-07-06
Rated 3 out of 5 by from A Surprisingly Enjoyable Read I was recently at our Chapters store and they had a double IRewards day but surprisingly I couldn't find any books that I REALLY wanted to read. Not wanting to pass up such a great deal I picked up a few books that caught my eye and this was one of them. I have not ready A Secret Life of Bees so I really didn't know what to expect from this author. I quite enjoyed this tale of a middle aged woman coming to terms with her own life's story. As I was reading I felt that the last 1/3 was a little rushed but then I realized that life is often like this...it takes a long time to get somewhere emotionally but once you're there the pieces seem to fall into place rapidly. I would have liked more description of thoughts and feelings during the last 1/3 as this is part of what made the first 2/3 so well written but the story was still one that is definately enjoyable. I plan to pick up A Secret Life of Bees soon...I think I have stumbled upon a new author to explore.
Date published: 2006-06-11
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Amazing! I loved this book! I haven't read this author before now and I'm impressed. What an wonderful story. It pulls you in and captivates you...one of my favourites!
Date published: 2006-06-09
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Pure Excellence! Her Secret Life of Bees (I rated it a 3) definitely showed her diamond in the rough potential. She really outdid herself. For other reviewers who said It was just like the Secret Life of Bees obviously didn't read the book very carefully. It was so much more developed, the characters were believable and the plot enjoyable. Please do yourself a favour and take the time to read this one!
Date published: 2005-12-11
Rated 5 out of 5 by from The Mermaid Chair I absolutely loved this book! I have also read The Secret Life of Bees but I enjoyed The Mermaid Chair so much more. The two stories are completely different, but i found this one to be a very realistic novel that pulls at your heart strings. I would highly recommend this book to anyone looking for a good read. You'll be captivatied in the story line for hours on end!
Date published: 2005-10-25
Rated 2 out of 5 by from dissappointed i loved secret life of bees. i was very dissapointed when i started reading the mermaid chair and found that the story line was almost identical, just different characters, i expected better from this writer. felt like i was reading a harlequin romance
Date published: 2005-08-25
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent Sue Monk Kidd has once again written a best seller. It is a story that cautions us to nurture those talents and characteristics that make us unique - never to lose sight of who we are as individuals. Throw in a childhood trauma, an aging mother in crisis, lust, romance and abiding love. All this told against the backdrop of a beautiful island in South Carolina. A great read.
Date published: 2005-08-24
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great Story Teller Sue Monk Kidd is one of the best Story Tellers of our time. From Dance Of the Dissedent Daughter to Secret Life Of Bees, each book stands on its own and is a prolific piece of literature. In South Carolina, resides a beautiful and mysterious chair, Ms. kidd does well to explain this in grand detail. Jessie is summonds home to a tragedy at the hands of her mother- the story unfolds from there. With moral issues, love and lust this is a real page turner.Also read Fire In The Ice by Katlyn Stewart and Impossible By Danielle Steel
Date published: 2005-07-11
Rated 5 out of 5 by from the Mermaid Chair I just finished reading the lastest book by Sue Monk Kidd and I want to express how much I enjoyed it. I couldn't put the book down and wanted to finish reading it right through. It was like a breath of fresh air and your life can be revitilized.
Date published: 2005-04-19

– More About This Product –

The Mermaid Chair

The Mermaid Chair

by Sue Monk Kidd

Format: Trade Paperback

Dimensions: 368 pages, 7.75 × 5.07 × 0.61 in

Published: March 7, 2006

Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group

Language: English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10: 0143036696

ISBN - 13: 9780143036692

About the Book

A #1 "New York Times" bestseller, this dazzling novel of passion and spirituality is penned by the author of "The Secret Life of Bees." "Soulful in its probing of the human heart."--"San Francisco Chronicle."

Read from the Book

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. “Yes, hello,” he said, and his voice came out coarse, a hangover from sleep.I rolled away from him then and stared across the room at the faint, watery light on the window, remembering that today was Ash Wednesday, feeling the inevitable rush of guilt.My father had died on Ash Wednesday when I was nine years old, and in a convoluted way, a way that made no sense to anyone but me, it had been at least partially my fault.There had been a fire on his boat, a fuel-tank explosion, they’d said. Pieces of the boat had washed up weeks later, including a
read more read less

From the Publisher

The New York Times–bestselling second novel by the author of The Secret Life of Bees and The Invention of Wings (Viking, January 2014)

Inside the church of a Benedictine monastery on 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.

When Jessie Sullivan is summoned home to the island to cope with her eccentric mother’s seemingly inexplicable behavior, she is living a conventional life with her husband, Hugh, a life “molded to the smallest space possible.” Jessie loves Hugh, but once on the island, she finds herself drawn to Brother Thomas, a monk about to take his final vows. Amid a rich community of unforgettable island women and the exotic beauty of marshlands, tidal creeks, and majestic egrets, Jessie grapples with the tension of desire and the struggle to deny it, with a freedom that feels overwhelmingly right and the immutable force of home and marriage.

Is the power of the mermaid chair only a myth? Or will it alter the course of Jessie’s life? What happens will unlock the roots of her mother’s tormented past, but most of all, it will allow Jessie to comes discover selfhood and a place of belonging as she explores the thin line between the spiritual and the erotic.

About the Author

SUE MONK KIDD is the author of the novels, The Secret Life of Bees and The Mermaid Chair, and the memoirs, The Dance of the Dissident Daughter, When the Heart Waits, and Firstlight, a collection of early writings. The Secret Life of Bees has spent more than 125 weeks on the New York Times bestseller list and was adapted into an award-winning movie. The Mermaid Chair, a #1 New York Times bestseller, was adapted into a television movie. Each of her novels has been translated into more than 24 languages. The recipient of numerous literary awards, Sue lives in South Carolina with her husband.

Editorial Reviews

"Book clubs, start your engines. Sue Monk Kidd's first novel, The Secret Life of Bees, has sold 3 million copies since 2002.…Those are big shoes to fill, but Kidd acquits herself admirably with The Mermaid Chair….Both novels drip with vivid images of hot Southern afternoons, droning insects, swooping birds and oases in which nature is the fabric of life. It is a tapestry strengthened by bonds between women that bridge pain and loss. Most important, both have passages of beautiful writing… Kidd wrote two well-received memoirs before turning to fiction. But perhaps the answer ultimately given by The Mermaid Chair is that a storyteller also can change course and come of age in the middle of her life."—USA Today"Her writing is so smart and sharp, she gives new life to old midlife crises, and she draws connections from the feminine to the divine to the erotic that a lesser writer wouldn't see, and might not have the guts to follow."—Time"(A) rewarding second novel by the author of the bestselling Secret Life of Bees. 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 crisisof 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." —Publishe
read more read less

Bookclub Guide

INTRODUCTION

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 finger and Kat is calling to ask Jessie to return home to Egret Island, South Carolina, to care for her.

Though Jessie has been somewhat estranged from her mother for the last five years, she departs immediately-realizing that despite the disturbing circumstances awaiting her, she feels relief in leaving and having some time away from her husband, Hugh, a psychiatrist. Jessie loves Hugh, but twenty years into their picture-perfect marriage, with their only child away at college, she has begun to feel a groundswell of restlessness or, as she puts it, “the feeling of time passing, of being postponed, pent up.” Understanding herself primarily through her relationship to her husband and to her daughter, she is baffled by her discontent, by her sudden resistance to creating her small “art boxes” that have been her only tenuous link to the passion she once had to be an artist. She has lost “the little river of sparks” that runs through life, but mostly she has lost her deep connection to herself.

Once on Egret Island, Jessie finds herself ill equipped to handle her mother's continuing erratic behavior, much less to comprehend what lies behind her enigmatic act of self-violence. She senses that it's related to her father's death-a death that is still surrounded by unanswered questions thirty years later. As she tries to piece together Nelle's tormented past, Jessie reconnects with the two women who, along with her mother, once formed an inseparable female trio, bound together by rituals and secrets only they shared. When Jessie finally discovers the truth about Nelle and her father's death, it unlocks a dark, painful secret. Its revelation, however, will begin to heal the relationships in both women's lives.

Near Nelle's home is a Benedictine monastery that houses a mysterious and beautiful chair carved with mermaids and dedicated to Saint Senara, who, legend says, was a mermaid before her conversion. The abbey and the chair have always been special to Jessie. There, she meets Whit, a junior monk who sought refuge at the monastery after suffering a devastating loss. Only months away from taking his final vows, he isn't completely certain whether he has come to the abbey in search of God or in search of immunity from life.

Jessie's powerful attraction to Whit awakens an immense sexual and spiritual longing inside her, as well as a pulsing new sense of aliveness. Amid the seductive salt marshes and tidal creeks of the island, she abandons herself to the long-buried passions of her body and the yearnings of her creative spirit and embarks upon a descent into her own uncharted and shadowy depths in search of a place inside herself that is truly her own. Torn between the force of her desire and her enduring marriage, Jessie grapples with excruciating choices, ultimately creating a “marriage” with herself.

In this novel Kidd takes on the darker, more complex elements of the psyche and human relationships-spiritual emptiness, infidelity, death, mental illness and euthanasia-with a steady gaze and compassion not often found in modern fiction. Above all, The Mermaid Chair is a book that embraces the sensual pull of the mermaid and the divine pull of the saint, the commitment to oneself and the commitment to a relationship-and their ability to thrive simultaneously in every woman's soul. Kidd's candid and redemptive portrayal of a woman lost in the “smallest spaces” of her life ultimately becomes both an affirmation of ordinary married love and the sacredness of always saving a part of your soul for yourself.

 


ABOUT SUE MONK KIDD

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 more than four million copies, and was chosen as the 2004 Book Sense Paperback Book of the Year and Good Morning America's "Read This!" Book Club pick. She is also the author of several acclaimed memoirs and the recipient of numerous awards, including a Poets & Writers award. She lives near Charleston, South Carolina.

 


DISCUSSION QUESTIONS
  • How does a woman like Jessie become “molded to the smallest space possible”? What signs might appear in her life? What did Jessie mean when she said part of the problem was her chronic inability to astonish herself?
     
  • Jessie comes to believe that an essential problem in her marriage is not that she and Hugh have grown apart, but that they have grown “too much together.” What do you think she means by that? How important is it for Jessie to find her “solitude of being”? How does a woman balance apartness and togetherness in a relationship?
     
  • How would you describe Nelle before and after her husband's death? What is your interpretation of the mysterious factors that led her to cut off her finger? What do her fingers symbolize? How does the myth of Sedna—the Inuit mermaid whose severed fingers became the first sea creatures—shed light on Nelle's state of mind?
     
  • Jessie feels that she has found a soul mate in Whit. Do you find this word inviting or repellent? When we speak of looking for a soul mate, what do we mean? Is there really such a thing?
     
  • Why do you think Whit came to the monastery? Would you describe him as having a crisis of faith? In what ways does he vacillate between falling into life and transcending it? What do you think of his decision at the end about whether to leave or to stay?
     
  • Islands are often places of personal trial and distillation of self—such as Shakespeare's The Tempest or Golding'sLord of the Flies. What are the emotional islands upon which each character is stranded? What is the significance of the Egret Island setting? How does each character finally escape the island of his or her making? What does the trial on the enchanted island reveal about each character?
     
  • St. Senara only becomes a saint once an abbot hides her fish tail and prohibits her from returning to the sea. On one hand, she has lost her wild nature and freedom to swim away, but on the other hand, she has gained sainthood among the humans she has grown to love. What is the significance of this tale in Jessie's life? When she leaves her husband to return to Egret Island, is she the wild mermaid or the stranded saint? How does the duality of the mermaid and the saint play out in women's lives? Can a woman contain both? Why do you think mystics and poets have drawn comparisons between sensual delight and godly delight?
     
  • The mermaid chair is a central image in the novel. What does it symbolize? What role does it play in the novel? In Jessie's life? In her father's? How does it become a place of dying and rebirth for both of them, literally and figuratively?
     
  • How would you describe Jessie's relationship with her father? How did having an absent father affect her? How did it affect her relationship to Hugh? What do you think Kidd was suggesting by the image of the whirley girl?
     
  • Jessie breaks away from creating her tiny art boxes and begins to paint, finding her true gift. Why is she unable to take up her authentic creative life before this? What role do her paintings play in her metamorphosis? How does Jessie's series of paintings of diving women reflect her own experience? What role does the motif of diving play in the novel?
     
  • The novel celebrates the hallowed bonds of women and suggests how a true community of women can become a maternal circle that nurtures a woman toward self-realization and helps her to give birth to a new life. How do Kat, Hepzibah, and even Benne play a role in Jessie's transformation? What has been the importance of female communities in your own life?
     
  • In perhaps the most moving and cathartic moment in the novel, Jessie goes to Bone Yard beach and speaks vows of commitment to herself—“'Jessie. I take you, Jessie . . . for better or worse… to love and to cherish.'” What does it mean to make a “marriage” to your self? Paradoxically, Jessie discovered that belonging to herself allowed her to belong more truly to Hugh. Does an inviolate commitment to oneself enhance one's commitment to a relationship?
     
  • In your mind, was Jessie's father's death a sin? Jessie isn't sure if choosing to end one's life in order to spare oneself and one's family extreme suffering was horning in on God's territory and usurping “the terrifying power to say when,” or whether it was usurping God's deep heart by laying down one's life as a sacrifice. What do you think?
     
  • The Mermaid Chair suggests that a love affair may be a common response to a marriage that has lost its way, but that in the end it is not a solution. In what way do you think the novel is a cautionary tale? Why do you think Jessie is unable to heed the warnings from Kat and Hepzibah? How could Jessie have found awakening without betraying her marriage?
     
  • Upon her return home, Jessie says, “There would be no grand absolution, only forgiveness meted out in these precious sips. It would well up from Hugh's heart in spoonfuls and he would feed it to me. And it would be enough.” Why does Jessie return to Hugh? Why is Hugh able to accept her back into his life? How has their relationship changed since she left for Egret Island? How has Jessie changed?