Book #69

The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock by Imogen Hermes Gowar

One September evening in 1785, the merchant Jonah Hancock finds one of his captains waiting eagerly on his doorstep. He has sold Jonah’s ship for what appears to be a mermaid.
As gossip spreads through the docks, coffee shops, parlours and brothels, everyone wants to see Mr Hancock’s marvel. Its arrival spins him out of his ordinary existence and through the doors of high society, where he meets Angelica Neal, the most desirable woman he has ever laid eyes on... and a courtesan of great accomplishment. This meeting will steer both their lives onto a dangerous new course.
What will be the cost of their ambitions? And will they be able to escape the legendary destructive power a mermaid is said to possess?

Jonah Hancock, a humble merchant, is used to his ships bringing home exotic ware, but when one of his captains returns with a mermaid, he is instantly at a loss. A mermaid in eighteenth century London. A dead, infant mermaid, no less. Imagine the extravaganza of this, the mania, the sheer force of cause célèbre. Georgians loved an oddity, and Hancock means to show them a marvel.

Despite mermaids’ reputation for destruction, the existence of this shrivelled up husk instead elevates Hancock into higher and wider social circles. He’s sought by the wealthiest, the most influential, and in turn meets Angelica Neal, one of the most celebrated courtesans in London. Their stories intertwine and converge as we come to understand them, to acknowledge their differences, and to bask in the contrasts between both of their experiences in life.

The setting of Georgian London is brilliantly realised, with gorgeous descriptions of the clothing, the buildings, the little luxuries, and even the sounds and smells. I really was immersed, and the writing style lended itself wonderfully to my immersion.

In addition, Gowar’s portrayal of Georgian society was perfect. The social circles, the expectations, the veiled snarky comments, the obsession with appearances and impressions. All of it contributed to the commentary, and to the overall painting of this time in history.

Although the writing was incredibly vivid, the plot itself seemed to fray relatively quickly. After the glamour and sociability the mermaid allows, we seem to stray off into a limbo of events. Pacing becomes laboured; numerous subplots are introduced, all with merit, however we don’t seem to explore these in as much detail as we should have. Many points were left unsettled, and one particularly compelling storyline seemed to be rubbed out altogether.

Truly atmospheric, beautifully written, yet somewhat imperfect. Still, a treat and a charm for lovers of historical fiction.