In this Cape Town, there’s a Goddess who casts raging red storms when female bodies are abused. It’s a place where women try to redefine their space in society. This is the story of a network of wannabe gangsters, the search for a Tamagotchi and the smokkeling of mermaid tails. Mermaid Fillet is about violence, feminism and how you dala what you must.
Mermaid Fillet is incredible conceptualized and crafted immaculately. 215 pages of pure darkness. I've read a couple of noir novels I'm my lifetime, but this one's darkness dripped out of the pages.
The story is crafted around a few but very shady characters. The character list provides valuable insight into the various characters' psychographics and was an incredibly useful tool because some of the characters were referred to by their street names, depending on who was talking to or about them.
Mermaid Fillet is set in the underbelly of Cape Town where smuggling, racketeering and murder is the order of the day. Violence, not only physical but psychological and sexual violence, distortion and corruption is all in a day's work. Here anything that is sellable or stealable is available. Drugs, diamonds, souls and ordered hits are everyday commodities.
Underneath the mayhem and marauding, there are people. People, who at face value are vile and despicable and deserve every bad thing coming their way, but deep down, the narrative centres trauma: childhood trauma from sexual violence by a relative, the introduction of young boys and girls into gangsterism by the community,..."Lucas was given his first silencer by Laura...", substance abuse because "... the silence is too loud...", survivors' remorse...when you cannot protect a sibling from suffering the same trauma as yourself...helplessness and hopelessness, violent sex as absolution, addiction to sex, shoes, alcohol, drugs. Suicide as the only way to escape one's reality and the family's or community's tendency to not believe a child sexual victim. The trauma of being orphaned, at any age, and gang-related killings.
Mermaid Fillet is beautifully crafted. The mixture of English and Afrikaapse added a textured layer to the story. Brought the community of die Kaapse suburbs closer to me and I had to look up the topography of Kuilsriver because Ma's 12-car garage had me shook. The incongruity of it all. I still cannot reconcile Tomato Bredie with that level of hidden wealth.
The use if this Afrikaapse dialect was an affirmation of a people, a place, a culture, an identity, a way of life. Some words were hard to understand, but read within the context of the vignette, my soul deciphered the meaning, the intention.
The gentleness in the characters brought me to tears. These were people who had to smim in murky waters everyday to survive, make hard decisions to ensure a good night's sleep, with a Glock underneath the people, but still retained a certain level of humanity with a sliver of gentleness.
More than the violence in the narrating, the feminist threads had me first pumping. Shows that no matter what the world throws at us, we still continue to fight to live another day.
Mia Arderne reminds us that we don't have to know and demonstrate our "wokeness". When you are woke jy is sommer woke, no need for tongue-twisters.
Go ahead and take that selfie, it is not an act of narcissism. Those instaposts will remind you of a good place and space you were once in should you need reminding one day.
Goddess: Power is most powerful when it’s covert. There are facets of power in language, in accents, in discourse, in movement, in spaces. Power is relational. There is no power without something or someone to hold it over. When did you realise that you could make someone feel small? When did you realise that you could destroy someone? Did you like it?
A rule-of-thumb for my limited book-buying budget is that I always try and buy local authors, especially if no ebook is available. I was delighted, however, to find that Scribd has ‘Mermaid Fillet’ by Mia Arderne available to subscribers. I read this before ‘The Promise’, which I am reading now after Damon Galgut won the Booker, catapulting South African fiction onto the world stage again.
However, ‘Mermaid Fillet’ is a much more uncompromising book than the relatively reader-friendly ‘The Promise’. It uses chunks of the Cape Afrikaans vernacular, but has no glossary to explain to international readers how truly wonderful words like ‘poesmooi’ or ‘malnaai’ actually are in their colloquial expressiveness. Afrikaans has to be one of the most creative languages ever when it comes to swearing, cursing, or generally insulting anyone.
And then there is the subject matter, which takes in an entire smorgasbord of perversity, from drug dealing and gun running and smuggling on the Cape Flats to gender-based violence, child abuse, rape and just your run-of-the-mill misogyny and hatred and fear of anything or anyone that is ‘different’. There is even a smidgeon of brooding magical realism thrown into the mix.
Reading this book, it is incredible to consider how South African fiction has flourished and mutated post-apartheid. Yes, there is always the issue of cultural appropriation and giving voice to ‘the other’ that local writers have to grapple with, as Galgut himself referenced in his Booker acceptance speech:
“Let me say this has been a great year for African writing, and I’d like to accept this on behalf of all the stories told and untold, the writers heard and unheard, from the remarkable continent I’m part of. Please keep listening to us, there’s a lot more to come.”
Joining that continental cacophony is the wonderful Arderne and her searing indictment of how social injustice and inequality breeds violence and terror in ‘Mermaid Fillet’.
I read it in a night and it is a book I didnt know I NEEDED to read. It tackles violence, addiction, sexual violence, depression, classism, racism, homophobia and feminism in about 300 pages. It authentically expresses Capetownian coloured culture.The characters are complicated. There are no lazy stereotypes in this book. I have never read a book or consumed any media where coloured culture wasn't distilled into either poverty porn or clownery. This book spoke to my every day existence. It's perfect.
You dont have to be culturally invested in the book to read it though. It's a great fucking story, regardless.
Mermaid Fillet by Mia Arderne is unlike any novel I've read before, so please bear with me while I fumble my way through trying to tell you about it.
It says it's 'A Noir Crime Novel', on the cover, but I'm not sure that's exactly right. It's definitely noir; as dark as anything. Hectic language, criminal themes and quite graphic, so steady yourself before reading.
But it's also beautifully written, poetic and felt like I was reading literary fiction (plus a little magic-realism). With pages that you have to reread, because they're dense with ideas.
The writing is visceral. Not just English, but more Slang-lish, with bits of Afrikaans. So at times I wasn't exactly sure I understood everything. But that's also because the writer is cooler, hipper (and younger) than me.
It takes you to the underbelly of a dangerous and devastating Cape Town, that we mostly only read about in newspapers.
I don't know this author, and I think this is a debut, aside from some published short stories that I will look out for. I hope there's more coming.
Wow. As other reviewers have said, this was a wild ride. A very original book, I have never read anything like it before. I was a bit apprehensive going in about the "noir crime" aspect, as I don't like reading about gangsters (much as I don't want to watch films about the maffia), but it was so much more than a crime novel. A feminist, magical realist, stunning debut.
A word of warning about the language: the book is written in a mixture of English and Afrikaaps, and if you are not familiar with the latter, you will find yourself googling word meanings a lot (and not always finding what you're looking for). Being Dutch certainly helped me. A couple of phrases that I'm proud of managing to decipher all by myself:
krap waaritie jikkie = krabben waar het jeukt (Dutch) = scratch where it itches (English) maarieherewiet = maar de Here weet (Dutch) = but the Lord knows (English)
Not for the faint of heart, and DO NOT read while eating, but definitely a must read! I loved how the character names and locations were local, it made me connect with this story on a level I don't usually get to connect with a story, even though many of the situations were outside of my personal experience. And omg did I enjoy the very local slang :D
My first review of the year! This one is somewhat personal for me. Mermaid Fillet was in my 2020 wrap up and I likened it to feeling like home.
I knew I was in for a ride when I read the lines “Don’t be taken for a poes” on page 1 😍. It’s not very often that I get to experience writing that references places that made part of my childhood. I was raised in a predominantly coloured area, went to a predominantly coloured school, attended a predominantly coloured church — you see where I’m going with this 😂 so this book invoked a lot of feelings, it felt so real despite being so fantastical. I felt like maybe I’d had crossed paths with some of the characters featured in this book but, enough about me 💀
Set in Cape Town (but not the side that you see in magazines), Mermaid Fillet masterfully touches on issues concerning women, violence, gender, racism, classism, substance abuse - oh, but don’t forget about the Jordan’s and the tamagotchis - while alternating between the lives of different characters in different timelines. While the book does fit in the crime noir genre I feel like there’s more to this story as Mia Arderne treats us to some magical realism and in some parts I’d argue literary fiction. Where some of the parts may be dark and gruesome, it rains uterine blood whenever a woman is abused, there is also some beauty and poetry in the way that language is used. There were moments when I was in awe of the innovation - like there’s a character list at the beginning which not only makes mention of the characters’ pronouns, their sexuality, mental illness but also their star signs 🥺💛.
But one of my favourite things was the awareness around the complex nature of being coloured in South Africa- it was the way Mia affirms a community, the people, and the places that make the community while simultaneously critiquing the community through the acknowledgment of the colourism and anti-blackness found within it.
There’s so much more that I want to say (and so much more to touch on) but at the same time I’m at a loss of words - maybe that’s why I took forever with this review (?). All in all I loved it, and would definitely recommend it as an offering that’s authentic in its telling of the coloured experience devoid from lazy stereotypes.
Have you read Mermaid Fillet? If the answer is no what are you waiting for 👀
Wow. Just wow. This book is a masterpiece. Funny and dark and devastating and insightful. Arderne’s characters are so real, so well formed, so unlike the cliches you expect in a book about the criminal underworld, and so surrounded by violence. Everyday violence, sexual violence, the violence of poverty and the inter-generational violence that runs through our history of dispossession and slavery. It’s a story about a criminal ring in the ganglands of Cape Town, but there is so much more to it than that. It’s a story about trauma, mental illness, feminism, wokeness, loss, family, and the experiences of so many coloured Capetonians that seldom feature in such a genuine, powerful way in our literature and arts.
If you’re not a fan of magical realism, don’t let the mermaids put you off. The magical elements of this book add a deliciously haunting layer to it, but it works just as well without them. Read it!
It's been a while since I've read a book this unputdownable. Wow. I'm going to have to reread this and do some heavy annotating because WOW. What a book. My favourite book we've tackled so far this semester (which says something). Mia Ardene, you literary genius.
This book was nothing short of amazing! I am so proud of our local talent here in South Africa I have shared about this book before, but you can swipe to read the blurb.
Review 5/5 ⭐️ The story alternates between the lives of the different characters and between different timelines. Initially you get to know the characters individually and as the story progresses, you are able to see how each one’s life ties into the next . Being from Cape Town myself, the characters are relatable and familiar. Not necessarily because you have had the same experiences, but in the sense that you may have met someone like them before or you have heard these same stories told by others. Some of the language used is very unique to Capetonians and I have heard many of these words and certain phrases throughout my life which made me laugh at times. I experienced so many different emotions while reading this book. There is a supernatural element but, done in a real life context which I enjoyed. This book was anything but predictable. There are so many important topics highlighted in this book sexual abuse, mental illness, addiction to social media and instant gratification, violence, substance abuse and addiction, homophobia, suicide and of course, feminism. I feel that you need to stay present while you are reading it as there are so many different elements in the story that demands your attention. But despite this fact, it is a fast-paced, intense and gripping read.
A phrase that stuck with me at the end was “There are two Cape Towns. That’s easy to forget.” What you see in magazines and the portrayal of Cape Town, is only part of it. This book shows you the other side. A Cape Town where violence, substance abuse and mental illness is a regular part of life. Where young lives are lost daily. Where the streets are ruled by gangs. Where the only way out for some, is to take their own lives. For many, drugs and alcohol are a temporary escape from their daily struggles. A coping merchanism...
I would highly recommend it to everyone and anyone, but I think it will hold a special place in your heart if you are from Cape Town.
At first the book reads like rap. I can hear accents as I read, see the characters' mannerisms. Later on, the text becomes lyrical without being long-winded. The subtext does most of the explaining and the book is filled with completely relatable, absolutely quotable gems. I'm not sure that non-South Africans will "get" a lot of the lingo and references, but that in itself makes the book feel like a kind of sentimental piece. Interesting read indeed.
This book took me on a journey. Knitting between a world I know and a world I don’t, I was transfixed from beginning to the end, enthralled in the lives of these characters, intrigued to know what comes next. The main cast are people we know, people we’ve seen, people who we’ve heard about whose stories are rarely told. It’s a story of pain, of surviving and the nuances that surround gangsterism, crime and the violence in our community. And that’s it, it’s a story of our community which doesn’t feel like it’s preaching to us or where we are treated as caricatures, it’s a story where the characters are real albeit in a fantasy setting. After putting this down, I had to take a minute to let what happened sink in, it’s a story that will stick with you long after you have read the last chapter.
Mia’s writing also is so poetic and beautiful that it makes our language, our slang, our way of speaking sound like melodic. Such a stunning debut novel.
I have never been so confused by the title of a book, let alone the contents! I honestly did not know what to make of the Goddess character. I believe this book was intended for a certain audience, as the language used in the book would make sense if you grew up in the Cape Flats. Unfortunately I did not, so I could not relate nor really understand the story.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
A one in a million type of book - couldn't put it down!
At the beginning I was just cackling out loud all the time, calling my brother over so I can read snippets to him. The intensity and more serious themes picked up quickly though, and just built and built until the end. The book is dark, and vulgar at times, but in such an honest and human way. The themes flow so well throughout the book, and as always I love Cape Town as a setting and a character.
I'm excited that I am reading more local books this year, and also to meet the author of Mermaid Fillet at her upcoming talk at the literature fest!
I don't think this book was bad, I think it covered a lot of relevant topics - sexism, gangsterism, the wealth divide in Cape Town and MERMAIDS!. However, I think it lacks international appeal. The book is full of Cape Town slang and Afrikaans, so unless you want to spend lots of time Googling this stuff the book is pretty inaccessible. I did persevere but for me slogging through the language, as well as dealing with exceptionally strange characters and the WOKE agenda (which is so on-trend right now) was a bit too much effort without any payoff. The fact that there needed to be a list of characters with summaries of their issue (and of course, their pronouns) shows that the author realised people would likely be confused at some point. Having lived in Cape Town for over a decade, helped a little bit because there was little to no geographic context provided but overall I don't think many people who don't have some sort of link to Cape Town or South Africa will really appreciate it.
I don’t remember from what book list I found this title but the description really made me want to read it … it sounded so weird and different. Unfortunately this book makes no effort at all at accessibility, and it’s only going to be intelligible to people very familiar with Cape Town and its dialects. I spent the first half really having no idea what I was reading; I pushed through because it was short and I was hoping for a payoff. Some interesting character development and I wanted to be interested but it’s like this book was pushing away its reader. Too much was untranslated (a few footnotes would have gone a long way) and zero descriptions of place … unless the mention of a neighborhood name will sufficiently conjure a fully built world for you, you’re out of luck. I think the author only wrote this for a very niche, “insider” audience, so I can’t recommend this one.
The book provides a decent (neo)noir setting but doesn’t keep up with the convention. I really like how Cape Town it is, but it makes its target audience quite small - you should be able to understand a fair amount of Afrikaans and know Cape Town well to enjoy it. I estimate my own understanding of references and vocabulary at around 80%. I appreciated the creativity, feminism, explorations out of the binary gender paradigm and the characters. There were many beautiful lines, scenes and dialogues there. Also, darkness. Unfortunately, to me, with all its beauty this novel is crippled by its chaos.
Mindblowing. Violent, funny, feminist as f*ck. Pure Cape Town. Incredibly crafted, beautifully told. I cackled and wept while reading this. One of the rarest reading experiences I have had in a long time. This is truly a spectacular and special book. (But it's wild.)
This is not your typical book. Set in Cape Town, the side you don't hear about on the tourism board. Brilliantly clever, down to earth, a little shocking, and definitely not for the faint of heart. I do however highly recommend it. If you're up for the challenge of reading about what we like to think doesn't actually exist but is far to rife to ignore, pop this one on your Wish List.
This book was a major page turner - I couldn't put it down. I got lost in the world of each character, which was seamlessly constructed with such depth that each one felt like a part of you. The symbolism for depression and mental health was very effective and powerful. It was also wonderful to read a book that was set locally.
I thoroughly enjoyed this book. Mia Arderne has a way with words that I haven't seen displayed with any other local author in a while; especially considering the subject matter. Nothing was overtly graphic or triggering which I appreciated. The storyline had me hooked from start to finish, hence finishing the book in a day.