Marina Warner

The Mermaids in the Basement: Stories

Short stories

In this collection of short stories the author reworks familiar folklore and legend, from the Queen of Sheba and Ariadna after Naxos to the babysnatchers, rapists and seducers of the popular media imagination.

Noah’s daughter-in-law and the Queen of Sheba; Susannah who was spied on by the Elders, and Ariadne, castaway by Thesius and rescued by Bacchus; a 19th-century anorexic, and 20th-century Kate who, like Pharoah’s daughter, finds a baby in a basket; a fairy tale princess and her beast – these are among the voices overheard in this first collection of stories by the author of Indigo and The Lost Father.

Reworking familiar folklore, legends and everyday preoccupations, inspired by famous images from painting, Marina Warner crosses the boundaries of time and space to listen to the calling of different heroines and anti-heroines, finding them in places both imaginary and real – in Vietnam, London, Naxos and the Fens. These ‘fantastic iconologies’ are peopled with figures of popular imagination – babysnatchers, rapists, seducers, suicides and visionaries – and they illuminate common situations from a fresh, often intensely subjective angle.

Ranging from pain to hope, from cynicism or playful irony to exaltation, these stories draw on the past to speak to the present in imagery at once ancient and modern.

Other editions

First published by Chatto & Windus, 1994