The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock by Imogen Hermes Gowar: Review

Title: The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock

Author: Imogen Hermes Gowar 

Publisher: HarperCollins

Pages: 496

Price: Rs. 599

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 felt like I was reading a book written in the 18th century. I could picture every single thing she describes: From the shipyards, to the brothels, to the houses of the rich and 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.

In this historical novel, Jonah Hancock, a widowed merchant, comes into possession of a dead mermaid. The mermaid is a dubious specimen delivered to Jonah Hancock by the master of one of his ships that ply the high seas. After the creature causes a sensation in London, Angelica Neal, a gorgeous, narcissistic courtesan, is enlisted by her former mentor, Mrs Chapell, the proprietress of a high-class brothel, to ‘entertain’ Hancock so he will agree to bring his exhibit to Mrs Chapell’s celebrated institution.

And when Mr Hancock falls in love with a beautiful prostitute, anything can happen — and does — in Gowar’s delightful debut set in the late 18th century. The novel is a bit slow in the beginning and it may take time for the reader to warm up to the characters and care about their fates. But, once you are invested, it is hypnotising.

The story picks up pace by the time the second mermaid makes her appearance and from then on the novel is hard to put down. Gowen’s writing is gorgeous and very visual. That purported sea creature brings an element of mystery to a novel alive with wit and humour.

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