The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock by Imogene Hermes Gowar, set in late Georgian London in the 1780s focuses on a middleaged never married merchant, Mr. Hancock and his future and eventually actual wife. This debut novel is already on best seller lists in The UK. The Irish Times and The Guardian both have spoken of author’s very real ability to transport us to the taverns, the streets, inside the busuness of merchant shipping, Mr Hancock’s primary occupation. We dont just see London, we hear it, smell the smells, notice all sorts of small details.
As The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock opens the captain of a merchant ship financed by Mr. Hancock has just arrived back and is reporting the results of the voyage to him. A trip can take up to two years, Mr. Hancock has investors eager to reap their promised rewards. Mr. Hancock is completely shocked when the captain tells him he traded the ship for the body of a mermaid. He did receive enough cash to pay off the investors. Mr. Hancock cannot believe the captain would be so stupid but he becomes convinced maybe he can make a fortune, way more than the lost profits, by charging people to see the mermaid. Soon he is rolling in Guineas.
Mr. Hancock’s teenage niece lives with him and he has servants. We get to know everyone in the household. Soon the next big phase of The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock opens when three afluent looking men offer to rent the mermaid for a week, to be the center piece at a party at a high end brothel, frequented by the cream of London Society.
Now we are going to The brothel! Mr. Hancock, a stranger to such places, is a bit uncomfortable dealing with the madame but he negotiates a deal. A great party is arranged, girls dress as mermaids. Mr Hancock is there, the mermaid has brought him riches. He is fascinated by the girls, is shocked to see distinquished members of parliament with half naked girls in their laps, and is taken by one of the girls. He has no experience with brothels and prostitutes and even though the madame tries to get him upstairs, he does not indulge.
I admit I most enjoyed the descriptions of brothel life. One of women he meets used to be a house girl but found a wealthy retainer. Sadly she recently lost him but does not want to go back to servicing all comers. Mr Hancock, now quiet rich, he feels the mermaid has brought him luck in his merchant endeavors, eventually decides he wants to marry her. The woman is not real interested but she tells Mr. Hancock if he can find an other mermaid for her she will marry him. He hires his old captain to find another one. He returns with a life mermaid. They marry, build a grand house, she becomes pregnant but miscarries.
To me I thought the novel went down hill a bit after the marriage but maybe I just like the descriptions of brothel life more than rest of the novel.
There is a scene where the brothel keeper is sentenced to the pillory that totally brilliant.
I am very glad I was given a review copy of The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock. I think anyone interested in 18th century England Will enjoy this debut novel.
There are lots of wonderful things in this book.
The author’s very interesting blog.
IMOGEN HERMES GOWAR was awarded the Malcolm Bradbury Memorial Scholarship in 2013 to study creative writing at the University of East Anglia. The Mermaid and Mrs. Hancock is her first novel and was a finalist in the Mslexia First Novel Competition and short-listed for the inaugural Deborah Rogers Foundation Writers’ Award. Her previous studies in archaeology, anthropology, and art history, and work in museums inspire her fiction.. from the publisher.