#bookreview The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock by Imogen Hermes Gowar published by Harvill Secker


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.

Amazon blurb:

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. At an opulent party, he makes the acquaintance of 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, on which they will learn that priceless things come at the greatest cost.

Where will their ambitions lead? And will they be able to escape the destructive power mermaids are said to possess?

In this spell-binding story of curiosity and obsession, Imogen Hermes Gowar has created an unforgettable jewel of a novel, filled to the brim with intelligence, heart and wit.

My reading experience:

There are words to describe this beautiful book such as exquisite, immersive and fantastical, and the protagonists exotic, enchanting and bewitching.

Meet Angelica Neal, an independent courtesan of high standards and her ‘lady maid’ Mrs Frost both recently and suddenly released from Angelica’s most recent ‘protector’.

“[There]before them … stands a true and haughty whore of the first water.”

She is an exotic creature of white powdered hair and elaborate gowns who has a sweet tooth and a hankering for collecting expensive items. When she is set up to meet Mr Hancock neither could know the course of events to follow that would take them both into a storm of memories and bewilderment, uncertainty and melancholy, cracking them both wide open and casting them adrift from their safe harbours.

A delight to read, both meandering and extravagant, a delicious tale of the fortunes of two people celebrating coming together from opposing backgrounds.

Themes: spectacle, lifestyle, class, social etiquette, social obligations, culture, historical women’s roles, wunderkammer, being true to yourself

The book is set in Caslon, a typeface named after William Caslon (1692-1766), the first of a famous English family of type designers and founders.


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