May Sarton's novel "Mrs. Stevens Hears the Mermaids Singing" tells the story of Hilary Stevens, a 70-year old poet and novelist who lives in a house by the sea with her cat, Sirenica. When a two-person team comes to interview her, she reflects on her life, love affairs, and literary career.
"Mrs. Stevens" is a fascinating fictional portrait of a woman writer. It's fun to hear the characters discuss the novels and poetry books written by this invented character; the book has an almost Borgesian flavor in parts as this imaginary oeuvre is explored. In this book Sarton also explores sexual and romantic love in its various permutations: male-male, female-male, and female-female. Along the way the characters invoke a number of important female writers: Sappho, Jane Austen, Colette, etc.
Sarton deals with a number of compelling issues in this book: the tension between female creativity and procreativity; women's mental health; the fickle fortunes of the literary world; and the impact of a book's reception on its author. Sarton has a satiric touch in her look at the literary/publishing establishment, a gentle touch in her look at human relations. And throughout there are some nice touches, like details about Hilary's work in her garden. Overall, a solid achievement from an impressively prolific writer.