The Mermaid and Mrs. Hancock by Imogen Hermes Gowar, Harper, 2018, 496 pages
Mermaids aren’t real, right? The reader will find themselves second guessing their certainty of that answer as they dive into a story of obsession and curiosity masterfully written by debut author Imogen Hermes Gowar.
Mr. Hancock’s ordinary merchant world is turned upside down by a late-night knock on his door. One of his captains has sold his ship in exchange for a small, ugly, and very dead mermaid. Even though he is not wholly convinced of the validity of his acquisition, Mr. Hancock is forced to recoup his money through a public exhibition. As gossip of this marvel spreads, a mermaid craze grips all levels of 1785 London society.
Uncomfortable at an opulent party celebrating his prize, Mr. Hancock comes into contact with a beautiful courtesan. At the stately age of 28, Angelica Neal is no longer the toast of London and is forced to make some hard decisions to secure the life she desires. She finds relief from her predicament through marriage to a besotted Mr. Hancock. At first, straight-laced Mr. Hancock and glittery Angelica appear to be an unlikely pair, but a sweet and genuine romance develops.
However, the path to true love is never without obstacles. A happy ending is in sight when Mr. Hancock finally secures the capture of a live mermaid. The mermaid is transported to London and contained in a saltwater tank. These magical beings are not meant for captivity and bring obsession and despair to their jailers. The Hancocks will need to find the motivation to break free of the lure of the mermaid.
Readers will enjoy getting lost in the rich period details and fully-formed characters. The novel is a slow build that is meant to be savored and Ms. Gowar’s care with every word is evident. The element of magical realism lends a fairy-tale feel to the story and serves as a welcome contrast to the often harsh Georgian world.
Fans of Sarah Waters, Jessie Burton, Alice Hoffman will delight in this lyrical novel. One of the best books of 2018, Gowar has certainly proved herself to be an author to watch.
Amanda Gramley is the Adult Programming Coordinator with the Alamance County Public Libraries. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or (336) 229-3588.