The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock by Imogen Hermes Gowar
Today on the Tattooed Book I’ll be reviewing the Women’s Prize for Fiction shortlisted book, The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock by Imogen Hermes Gowar.
1785, Mr Hancock is awaiting the return of his ship’s most recent venture and he’s happy when the captain safely returns to his doorstep. However, he’s not quite so sure of the captain’s decision to sell Mr Hancock’s boat in exchange for the shrivelled corpse of what appears to be a real mermaid. The captain does his best to convince Mr Hancock that the body will be his fortune, that no one else in the world owns a real mermaid and that people will flock across the country to see it.
Unconvinced, Mr Hancock begins to display the mermaid for a small charge. The business takes a while to get going but after word spreads of how hideous the creature is, fine folk begin to attend and the coins start rolling in.
Soon the mermaid catches the attention of an infamous madame that owns a private brothel, one that services only the upper classes. She comes to an agreement with Mr Hancock that she can rent the mermaid and display it exclusively at a party. Mr Hancock becomes rich and her business becomes the talk of the town.
Mr Hancock attends the mermaid’s launch party at the brothel (his first step into higher society) but is disgusted by what he sees. What he does manage to notice, through his horror, is one of the most beautiful ladies he has ever seen in his life, a woman called Angelica Neal. Before long he makes her a promise, that he will find another mermaid just for her, completely unaware of where the promise will lead them.
“The stories are of men who, walking on the shore, hear sweet voices far away, see a soft white back turned to them, and – heedless of looming clouds and creaking winds – forget their children’s hands and the click of their wives’ needles, all for the sake of the half-seen face behind a tumble of gale-tossed greenish hair.”
Of all the books shortlisted for the Women’s Prize for Fiction in 2018, The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock is by far the most fun to read. Imogen Hermes Gowar’s descriptions of 1700s London bring both the frivolity and the filth to life. The characters are colourful and vivid, Angelica brings a passion for life to the page while Mr Hancock is believable in his simplicity, with a want for family and profitable business.
Separated into three volumes, the novel is also sprinkled with pages from the mermaid’s perspective. As the novel comes towards its conclusion, these insights become more and more intriguing, giving an insight into the mermaid’s mind, even if it’s not the type of mermaid that you might see in picture books.
At almost 500 pages, The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock is quite a long book but it never feels that way when you’re reading it. Fast, fun and always interesting, this is an absolute must-read for anyone wanting something quirky and literary. Beautifully written and brimming with fabulous characters, this is historical fiction at it’s very best.
Check out my review for the Women’s Prize for Fiction 2018 winner Home Fire by Kamila Shamsie.