FORGOTTEN BOOK: PEABODY’S MERMAID by Guy Pearce Jones and Constance Bridges Jones, 1946
This is the 126th in my series of Forgotten Books.
I like the concept of mermaids and their interaction with people. I really liked the film Splash with Tom Hanks and Darryl Hannah. So, when I saw this book in the store years ago, I picked it up. I saw the film version (entitled Mr. Peabody and the Mermaid with William Powell and Ann Blyth as the title characters). And the mermaids in the last Pirates of the Caribbean film were among the few highlights of that one.
Our hero, Mr. Arthur Peabody and his wife Polly are wealthy New Englanders who have rented a villa on the island of St. Hilda, a former British colony. Their neighbors are snooty and nosy. There is no real character development. You’ve seen these characters in those Busby Berkley films like Gold Diggers of 1935 or Dames. Peabody himself is a nice enough guy. He just wants to fish and relax. Not the Mrs., though. She has to be seen and to entertain. And she is not taken with the beautiful, young, single talented Cathy Livingston, since the other women are not taken with her. The men are, but that is different.
Peabody borrows a boat and sails out to Oro Cay with his wife’s dog Blip. On the way there he hears a very pleasant voice singing but does not see anyone. On the Cay which is pretty hard to get to, he finds a woman’s comb but no evidence of a woman being there.
Peabody hears the unearthly voice singing again, but the song has no words just a melody. He asks Cathy if she has been singing recently (she has been in a jazz combo at some point) but it is not her. So he visits the island again and fishes. Eventually he lands the title character.
He bundles her up and takes her back to the villa where he deposits her in a pond. Polly does not want to hear about it. The servants begin to notice weird things and, being superstitious, they leave. People ask Peabody about his fishing and he concocts some stupid story about catching a big fish or a manatee. The story changes.
From here on, anyone who ever watched I Love Lucy or the other mindless sitcoms of the 50’s and 60’s could write this book. Does Peabody announce to the world, “Hey, I caught a mermaid!” Of course not. He wants to talk to her and confide in her and find out about her. Of course, she does not speak and she has nasty teeth. She does not wear clothes so he attempts to obtain the bra portion of a swimsuit for her though he has no idea of her size. Tongues begin to wag and of course Mrs. Peabody hears and is appalled, ashamed and immediately decides to depart, rather than ask what the hell is going on.
It is not a great book but overall I did enjoy it. The Jones’ do their best to try and channel Thorne Smith but they are not quite up to the challenge. If you find the book inexpensively as I did, you might check it out. I have not seen the film in many years, but I am sure it was innocuous enough.
One bit of warning. This book was written just after WWII and certain of its attitudes are reflected throughout it, particularly as they relate to the servants, will not set well with modern readers. The servants are portrayed as superstitious children with no real thoughts. Every conversation with them is extremely condescending.
There are copies of the hardback and paperback on the web for not much if you look.
Series organizer Patti Abbott hosts more Friday Forgotten Book reviews at her own blog, and posts a complete list of participating blogs.