I know we’re not yet done with January, but 2018 will have to pull something out the hat to push Mrs Hancock and The Mermaid off my favourite book of the year spot. This debut novel by Imogen Hermes Gower really does live up to all the hype you may have heard.
Mr Jonah Hancock is a merchant whose life is irrevocably changed when instead of a usual cargo, his agent sells Hancock’s ship and comes home with a stuffed mermaid. Such a fierce and wondrous creature has never before been seen in London of the late 18th century and Hancock is soon thrust into the type of society he is entirely unprepared for. His mermaid is hired by Mrs Chappell, abbess of one of the best nunneries in the city, a madame with a stable of young, cultured girls who service only the best of society’s gentlemen. Attending a bawdy party at her establishment where his mermaid is on show, Hancock meets Anjelica Neale, a courtesan who is forced back into a relationship with Mrs Chappell after her protector died. This meeting is to have a profound effect on both of them and soon events are set in motion that will profoundly change the lives of all in attendance.
Mr Gower has obviously done loads of research. Authenticity drips off the page and I felt I was present in every drawing room and boudoir, and walking the dirty streets with her characters. And what characters the author has created! Mr Hancock is a solid, dependable man who happiness seems to have passed by. He wasn’t entirely sympathetic at first, but the skill of the author revealed the man in glimpses and flashes that soon made me want only the best for him. Anjelica took longer to like. She starts off as a spoiled and petulant child but as her back story is expertly revealed I came to care for her too.
The language of the book is delicious. I found great pleasure in the words themselves, independent of the story. It’s a shame we no longer use such language today but perhaps if we did we’d lose the utter joy of it.
I loved the story from beginning to end and I put down the book smiling because I had enjoyed it so much, yet sad that it was over.
I recommend that you waste no time in reading this remarkable book for yourself.
I received a copy of the book from the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.