The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock

The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock

This voyage is special. It will change everything… One September evening in 1785, the merchant Jonah Hancock hears urgent knocking on his front door. One of his captains is waiting eagerly on the step. 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...

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Title:The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock
Author:Imogen Hermes Gowar
Rating:
Edition Language:English

The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock Reviews

  • Simon

    I insist you all read Imogen Hermes Gowar’s fabulous debut The Mermaid & Mrs Hancock; a historical romp with wonderful characters, saucy shenanigans, dark glimmering corners of 1700’s society and possibly a mermaid or two. An utter treat. I need say no more.

  • Helene Jeppesen

    What a wonderful, whimsical book! I admit I found this novel very daunting because of its size and because of its plot which has to do with mermaids and is in addition historical fiction. For that reason, I was hesitant to pick it up, and I let it stay put on my bookshelves for several weeks.

    One day, however, I decided it was time to read it, and from the very first chapters I knew that this was not at all the daunting story I was expecting. Instead, it started out with the most intriguing plot

    What a wonderful, whimsical book! I admit I found this novel very daunting because of its size and because of its plot which has to do with mermaids and is in addition historical fiction. For that reason, I was hesitant to pick it up, and I let it stay put on my bookshelves for several weeks.

    One day, however, I decided it was time to read it, and from the very first chapters I knew that this was not at all the daunting story I was expecting. Instead, it started out with the most intriguing plot, written in a perfectly accessible language, that had me want to keep going and not put down this novel.

    “The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock” is about Mr Hancock who is one day told by one of his hired captains, that the captain has sold his ship in trade for a mermaid. What is one to do with a mermaid? That is was Mr Hancock sets out to find out. Meanwhile, we follow Angelica who works in a whorehouse and has no scrupples when it comes to men and her own reputation.

    The mermaid in this book serves more as a gateway to the lives of Mr Hancock and Angelica, so that the mermaid - who is actually the focal point of the story - is also put very much in the background throughout most of the novel.

    I loved the character development in this beautifully crafted book. I loved how it was written in a way that convinced you it was set in the 1700s, but at the same time it has some scenes that are so candid and honest that you can’t help but be surprised and enthralled.

    “The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock” is one of those books that had so many memorable scenes in it that, at one point, I had to stop my reading and write them down. I am still perplexed at how much this book took me by surprise, and I believe that it is a beautifully crafted and whimsical story from beginning till end.

  • Ova Incekaraoglu

    This is by far the best read of the year for me so far and will be an all-time favourite.

    Astonishing storytelling and highly atmospheric, surprising to believe it's a debut novel. Has a few flaws here and there but I loved it so much wouldn't let anyone say anything nasty about this book!

    The story is set in late 1700's London. Mr Hancock, a wealthy merchant, acquires a mermaid unwillingly to compensate a loss in trade. Although he considers himself no showman, he i

    This is by far the best read of the year for me so far and will be an all-time favourite.

    Astonishing storytelling and highly atmospheric, surprising to believe it's a debut novel. Has a few flaws here and there but I loved it so much wouldn't let anyone say anything nasty about this book!

    The story is set in late 1700's London. Mr Hancock, a wealthy merchant, acquires a mermaid unwillingly to compensate a loss in trade. Although he considers himself no showman, he is tempted to display the mermaid in hopes of making some money.  His mermaid becomes an attraction soon enough and a 'madam', Mrs Chappell, seizes the opportunity making him an offer to display the creature for a week in her own establishment. As you can imagine, this is a brothel and Mr Hancock meets the beautiful, practical but no-so-calculated courtesan, Angelica Neal.  Angelica is 27- only a few years before she loses her teeth, or gets gray hair,  no longer desirable enough to be kept. She has been recently abandoned by a 'keeper' and looking for another one. Although she looks like a free woman from outside, unlike the mermaids floating in the sea freely, Angelica is imprisoned in the society depending on men for her living, in company of women like Mrs Chappell.

    Forget your dignity. You can discover it again when you have made your fortune. As for disdain, there's no place for it here. This world elevates the industrious man, and if you are canny it will elevate you. Disdain! Dignity! I never heard such squabbles.

    says Mrs Chappell to one of the courtesans. The girls she spoke to, described as silent as mules in response. Inhuman. Creature-like. There is the magical creature in this novel, yes, but what Gowar also does is to portray humans as creatures of interminable wants and needs, always hungrily, selfishly seeking comfort,  material or emotional.

    There are a lot of metaphors in the book, but not much magical realism really, except just towards the end it is quite a solid and realistic story. It's difficult to classify but I wouldn't call this book a work of fantasy or magical realism.

    The mermaids, being hunted, displayed, imprisoned, forms a strong subtext of human's cruelty to other creatures in this story- I couldn't stop thinking about the imprisoned Dolphins while reading- just for the desire of owning, or entertainment.

    Also the imprisoned mermaid sending waves of grief is a breathtaking metaphor of a kept woman (wife or courtesan), which deeply effected me and is one of the reasons I would classify this as an all-time-favourite read, despite the little flaws. (It's a debut, so let's forget about Polly and her little stream of story line in this deep ocean of 500 pages)

    LOVED the ending and will be looking out for the next novel from Imogen Hermes Gowar.

  • Evelina | AvalinahsBooks

    hm, super curious. No mermaid, no Mrs Hancock. What is to come of this?

    yes. The mermaid. Still no Mrs Hancock though. But there are other interesting things going on, so no matter!

    --- o....kay. Back to square one. But I'm attached to the characters by now! There's still half the book... WHY is it called that though??

    --- it seems everything is settled! At least we've got Mrs Hancock no

    hm, super curious. No mermaid, no Mrs Hancock. What is to come of this?

    yes. The mermaid. Still no Mrs Hancock though. But there are other interesting things going on, so no matter!

    --- o....kay. Back to square one. But I'm attached to the characters by now! There's still half the book... WHY is it called that though??

    --- it seems everything is settled! At least we've got Mrs Hancock now. Never you mind that mermaid. But what could still happen?

    --- err, okay. Well at least the name works out. Kind of wish it didn't though...

    --- oh... again, did not expect this. Although it's a nope from me. Y U do dis, characters?? You could just be happy instead, maybe??

    --- right. Alright. I can settle on that.

    Read the rest of the review and my thoughts on it

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  • Paromjit

    This debut atmospheric historical fiction by Imogen Hermes Gowar is an enthralling tale set in 18th century London, where much is in flux with the world irrevocably changing culturally and so much that is new is being introduced to society such as the tantalising strange foods. It should be made clear the fantasy element suggested by the mermaid in the title stays in the background until the latter stages of the story. It is 1785, and John Hancock, merchant, frets over the possible loss of one o

    This debut atmospheric historical fiction by Imogen Hermes Gowar is an enthralling tale set in 18th century London, where much is in flux with the world irrevocably changing culturally and so much that is new is being introduced to society such as the tantalising strange foods. It should be made clear the fantasy element suggested by the mermaid in the title stays in the background until the latter stages of the story. It is 1785, and John Hancock, merchant, frets over the possible loss of one of his ships. A captain of one of his ship's informs him excitedly that he has sold his ship to purchase a 'mermaid', a dead thing with the tail of a fish and the body of a monkey. Initially Hancock feels it is of precious little value only to find he is mistaken and off the mark.

    There are widespread rumours and curiosity for the weird 'mermaid' and people are willing to pay to see it. Hancock finds himself in a scenario he never expected to be in, he comes to enter a wider society and connects with elements of London he has no experience of. He meets the most famous courtesan in London, Angelica Neal, and an unconventional romance blossoms between the odd couple. However, their path to true love is littered with obstacles. It is said that the power of mermaids is to destroy, but is this so? The role and magic of the mermaid becomes central closer to end of the novel. Gowar's prose is beautiful, overflowing with wonderful descriptions and rich period details. London is evoked brilliantly with its changes in society, the theatres, the brothels, the coffee houses, the villainy, the dangers, the dirt and the stench. This is not a perfect book by any stretch of the imagination, but I loved reading it, finding myself immersed in the world created by Gowar. A great read! Many thanks to Random House Vintage for an ARC.

  • Hannah Greendale

    to watch a video review of this book on my channel,

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    A coquettish gallivant through 1780’s London, where a man’s life is upended by the gift of an infant mermaid’s corpse, and a courtesan frets over her waning beauty. Magical realism is as glittering and elusive as a mercurial sea nymph. The pacing is a slow stream, but the prose is an aphrodisiac. A promising debut; Gowar is an author to watch.

  • Sara

    I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review,

    I think I was expecting more from this than delivered - and I don't think that's entirely the books fault. I was expecting magical realism, fantasy and mermaids based on the blurb. What I got was a well written historical romance novel, steeped in descriptive prose that felt a little flat to me.

    The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock follows a humble merchant and his love for a courtesan, whom he meets after a chance encounter with a mermaid.

    Jo

    I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review,

    I think I was expecting more from this than delivered - and I don't think that's entirely the books fault. I was expecting magical realism, fantasy and mermaids based on the blurb. What I got was a well written historical romance novel, steeped in descriptive prose that felt a little flat to me.

    The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock follows a humble merchant and his love for a courtesan, whom he meets after a chance encounter with a mermaid.

    Jonah was a little dull in character, and felt as though he was severally lacking in any emotional depth (and backbone). Angelica, our courtesan, in comparison is scatty and all over the place. I wasn't keen on her characterization either, as she felt so different to Jonah, and I couldn't really understand her interest in him at all.

    The pace is agonizingly slow, and the romance takes a long time to develop. I understand that the constraints of the time meant a romance of this nature would be upheld with trepidation and many longing glances - but unfortunately I felt it meandered too much before anything really happens. The ending, although it took a long time to get to, also left a lot of loose story lines which annoyed me.

    I really didn't get what I expected out of this unfortunately. If it was targeted more as a historical romance it would perhaps find a better audience.

  • Hannah

    In this historical novel, Jonah Hancock, a widowed merchant, comes into possession of a dead mermaid. While trying to find a way to make money of this, he crosses paths with Angelica Neal, a courtesan whose protector has unexpectedly died.

    My thoughts on this are very complicated. I don’t think I have been this unsure how to rate a book this year yet. Therefore, here are my thoughts, first in list form and then more elaborate:

    Pros:

    - mesmerizing language

    - wonderful description

    - immersive setting

    -

    In this historical novel, Jonah Hancock, a widowed merchant, comes into possession of a dead mermaid. While trying to find a way to make money of this, he crosses paths with Angelica Neal, a courtesan whose protector has unexpectedly died.

    My thoughts on this are very complicated. I don’t think I have been this unsure how to rate a book this year yet. Therefore, here are my thoughts, first in list form and then more elaborate:

    Pros:

    - mesmerizing language

    - wonderful description

    - immersive setting

    - unpredictable plot

    Cons:

    - glacial pacing

    - characters

    - meandering plot.

    This is one of the most beautifully written books I have read this year. Imogen Hermes Gowar has a brilliant way with words and I love how immersive her setting is. I could picture every single thing she describes, from the shipyards, to the brothels, to the houses of the rich and the houses of the merchants, to the parks and alleys. The dresses and the way people looked came alive in her description and this made for a vivid reading experience.

    However, the pacing was glacial and the plot meandering. Told in third person from numerous perspectives, I am quite unsure what the main story was supposed to be. (Jonah Hancock and his niece and sister and their relationships are one focus of this work, Angelica Neal and her confidante another, her relationship with another suitor the third, Mrs Chappell and her prostitutes another, then there is a the subplot of Polly, one of Mrs Chappell’s black prostitutes and how she is treated for being such, then the search for another mermaid and so on and so forth.) While plenty of these perspectives could have been interesting we often did not spend enough time with these people for them to come alive. The two main protagonists, Jonah and Angelica, also stayed undefined for me. Especially Angelica was hard to root for in the first half of the book, although she did grow on me in the end. I wish the plotting had been tighter or (and I cannot believe I am saying this about a 500-page long book) the book longer. I would have liked more closure on some of these storylines (especially Polly’s!).

    Ultimately, what will stick with me is the unbelievably beautiful writing. While long stretches were excruciatingly boring there was never a moment where Imogen Hermes Gowar was not in perfect command of her language. This alone is enough for me to be excited about what she will do next.

    I received an arc of this book courtesy of NetGalley and Harvill Secker in exchange for an honest review.

  • Jennifer

    Video review here:

    An impressive novel set in 1780s London that reflects on class, prostitution (in various forms), and desire. The best thing about it is the sentence-by-sentence writing, which is incredibly poised and nuanced (especially for a debut novelist). The settings are richly imagined and atmospheric, and the characters are wonderful (especially Angelica Neal, a vivacious escort who finds her glory days coming to a close). But I can't help thinki

    Video review here:

    An impressive novel set in 1780s London that reflects on class, prostitution (in various forms), and desire. The best thing about it is the sentence-by-sentence writing, which is incredibly poised and nuanced (especially for a debut novelist). The settings are richly imagined and atmospheric, and the characters are wonderful (especially Angelica Neal, a vivacious escort who finds her glory days coming to a close). But I can't help thinking that ultimately The Mermaid and Mrs. Hancock is less than the sum of its parts, largely due to poor plotting and pacing.

    (Thank you to Harvill Secker for a GORGEOUS copy of this book)

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