The Mermaid And Mrs Hancock by Imogen Hermes Gowar

themermaidandmrshancockAs someone who enjoys reading historical fiction, when I first heard about Imogen Hermes Gowar’s first novel, I was keen to read it. Set in London during the Georgian era, The Mermaid And Mrs Hancock tells the story of two people from different walks of life, and the extraordinary acquisition which draws them together.

Told over three volumes the reader is first introduced to Jonah Hancock, a merchant whose life is about to change following a surprising decision by his ship’s captain. An urgent knocking at his door leads to the revelation that his ship has been sold by the captain in order to purchase a mermaid – though it is not the beautiful creature you would envision, and is more frightful in appearance, much to Mr Hancock’s dismay. Agonising over the loss of one of his ships, he believes the mermaid to be a useless acquisition, but it transpires that there is a potential fortune to be earned from the creature. Stories and rumours surrounding the mermaid soon spread, and there are many people willing to pay to see it with their own eyes. As a result of this interest, Mr Hancock finds himself in unusual territory, coming into contact with an area of society that was unfamiliar to him. Here his path crosses with that of Angelica Neal, a well known courtesan who catches Mr Hancock’s eye, but who despite her beauty carries with her concerns of her own. As the story progresses we learn more about Mr Hancock and Angelica and how their lives are changed by the presence of the mysterious mermaid.

The presence of the mermaid of course gives this novel an element of fantasy and magical realism though the mermaid itself is more of a backdrop to this story which is very character driven. In terms of the plot itself I would say it develops at a slower pace with the significance of the mermaid becoming clearer towards its conclusion. That said I wouldn’t say this is a negative thing, and there is plenty to enjoy and savour along the way. Fans of historical fiction are in for a treat with this book. The story is wonderfully written and rich in detail, with vivid descriptions of Georgian London which help portray the atmosphere and the changing society at the time. It didn’t take me long to become immersed into this world and the society within it, and along the way it deals with various themes surrounding gender roles and social status amongst others. And this is particularly significant in regard to the novels central characters, as we see how the two develop as individuals and how they have had an effect on one another. Through Mr Hancock and Angelica we see two characters of differing social status, but who both have concerns on their minds from past tragedy to concerns of their future, and how they will move forward. And alongside it all there is the presence of the mermaid, and the power it holds which could alter their paths.

I enjoyed reading The Mermaid And Mrs Hancock and whilst it was a little different from what I was expecting in terms of plot I enjoyed the storytelling and the beauty of the prose which wonderfully evokes Georgian life. It is an intriguing historical tale with fantastical elements that had me hooked.

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