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Imogen Hermes Gowar’s Debut is a Delightful Romp through the London of 1700s

4th June, 2018

Book review:The mermaid and Mrs hancock by Imogen Hermes Gowar

One of the best things I did over the weekend was to indulge in The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock. I loved every minute of it. It might come as a surprise that when ARCs of the book were being sent out, I was not so keen on acquiring one. It had all the elements that lure me – historical tale set in London, mermaids, a stunning cover; yet I said ‘No’. It didn’t seem like a novel I would enjoy when I read the blurb (in spite of having so many of my go-to-keywords). Perhaps the size of the book (always a reader who runs away from big books) had more to do with my decision. And also the fact that I was in awe of Susanna Clarke’s London in Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell last year (which was huge and a pure delight) that I didn’t think another book would be able to entice me that way. But when such excellent reviews from other readers started pouring in and a climb onto the Women’s Prize for Fiction, 2018 made news, I knew I had to give Imogen’s debut a try.

Best decision ever!

In Brief

A widower, Mr. Hancock, realizes his livelihood is at stake when one of his captains trades away his merchant vessel in exchange for what appears to be a mermaid. The beautiful courtesan, Angelica Neal, tries to make her future secure but is on the downhill ride with nothing to hold on to. When their stories collide, so do their ambitions.

Book review: The mermaid and Mrs hancock by Imogen Hermes Gowar

London of 1700's

The Mermaid and Mrs. Hancock is a very fitting tribute to the London scene of 1700’s. The descriptions of luxury and grandeur were perfect, as were those of the shops, brothels, parlours, gastronomic delights and furnishings. The beauty of this work lies in how her research into the time period makes subtle appearances in the little details rather than a wordy ramble to be shoved down the reader’s throat. The bawdy prostitution houses, the chamber pots, lecherous men, seductive courtesans, all add charm to the London that awaits a mermaid.

Realism vs fantasy

At times, I felt the novel to be a fitting companion read to Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, even though it is rooted in magic while The Mermaid and Mrs. Hancock is grounded in realism. The presence of the mermaid is more of an emotional sub-current in a story rooted in realism than as a fantastical element. The story explores the destructive power that mermaids are believed to have on humans.

The language

Imogen has created a marvellous literary delight with a rich, visual feel. Every scene is written so splendidly be it the delights of society or the grief and melancholic air that engulfs the characters behind closed doors.

The book has been compared to Sarah Perry’s The Essex Serpent (another favourite read from 2017). I choose to disagree. While both the books have a distinct sense of atmospheric narrative, their merits are vastly different from one another as well as the experience each bestows upon the reader.

Book review:The mermaid and Mrs hancock by Imogen Hermes Gowar

A bit shallow

Don’t get me wrong. I adored the book. The book had my attention throughout. However, I felt no attachment whatsoever to the characters in the story. I was fascinated by the sketch of Angelica though. She single handedly seemed to breathe life into the book just as the vivacious, sprightly girl she is described as in various scenes. While I appreciated the presence of minor black characters (such as Polly) who are part of the history of the 1700’s, their sketches were vague. The plot suffered greatly, perhaps because of the abundance of characters and indistinct subplots. I am unable to point out what was lacking in the characters, but they failed to move me even though I basked in the descriptions of the old London.

Final Verdict :

I really enjoyed this book and would recommend it if you have a thing for historical books, old London setting and atmospheric reads. This novel reads like an old classic, not a debut , and for this feat, Imogen deserves all the praise. Pick this up if you are in the mood for a slow, visual romp through historical London.


Women's Prize shortlist, 2018

I am so thrilled to partner with Women’s Prize for Fiction, 2018 this year as well for an International Giveaway. If you would love to win this year’s shortlist (yes, you heard it right! All six of them), head over to my social media handles. Good luck! The shortlist has some stellar reads this year, so make sure you put in your entries before 7th June, 2018.

Links for the giveaway :  Instagram  |  Twitter

Pic courtesy : The Women’s Prize

Title : The Mermaid and Mrs. Hancock
Author : Imogen Hermes Gowar
Publisher : Harvill Secker
Publication: 2018
Language : English
Pages : 496
Rating : 4/5

Let's discuss

Have you been reading the Women’s Prize for Fiction, 2018 shortlist?


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The Mermaid and Mrs. Hancock
This Post Has 18 Comments
  1. I read someone else’s review who had a similar reaction. Se didn’t care about the charcaters but still loved the book for it’s language and setting. I’m not too keen because it’s not slim and I have so many unread historical novels on my piles already. I’m glad you enjoyed it after all.

  2. I love historical fictions and this book has been sitting on my shelf for two months. But I am somehow just unable to pick it. It is perhaps the size.

  3. Sounds lovely and I’ve read praise from other bloggers. It is on my list. I am also hesitant to pick big books sometimes too. I think it’s because I know how many books are on my TBR and I feel like a big book is such a commitment!

  4. I agree this novel reads like an old classic and that’s its charm. I could have done with lesser subplots and the chamberpot. The characters got interesting by the volume 2. But by the end I simply didn’t care what happened to them.

  5. I read The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock and Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell with a gap of a book of two. They do make good companion reads! Both books paint such a vivid picture of 1700s London.

    1. I think you might still like the book because of Angelica who is a well fleshed character. Maybe one day when you have a few hours of leisure, you might want to pick up this one.

  6. I love when you can tell a writer of a historical fiction piece has done their research. Hmm, my guess would not have been that this book revolves around mermaids destructive influence on humanity. My gut says it’s probably the other way around. Nice review!

    1. Actually save for the title we don’t see much of the mermaid. The mermaid stays in the background and we delve into the emotional nuances of the characters. It is a strangely satisfying book.

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