Martin's Must Reads: 'The Mermaid and Mrs. Hancock'

Apr 23, 2019

“A spellbinding novel of a merchant, a mermaid, and a madam - an unforgettable confection of obsession, wonder, and the deepest desires of the heart - told with bawdy wit, sparkling intrigue, and a hint of magic.”

I’m Betty Martin with "Martin’s Must Reads" and that’s a quote from the fly leaf of the novel The Mermaid and Mrs. Hancock by Imogen Hermès Gowar.

Told in three parts, it opens with merchant Jonah Hancock discovering that one of his ships has been sold for a dead mermaid. He seeks to recoup his loss by displaying it and charging people money to see it. Mrs. Chappell, a local madam convinces him to rent it to her so she may increase her clientele.

It is at the first night’s showing that Hancock meets Angelica and falls under her spell. Angelica tells him he may have more of her attention when he brings her another mermaid and so he goes off to do just that. But he doesn’t realize just what that acquisition will cost him and those around him.

As the book progresses Gowar paints a picture of some of the women in Britain in  the 1700’s who were forced to resort to a life of sin in order to survive, of a few who managed to escape that life and the myths surrounding mermaids.

Gowar’s flawless writing style immerses the reader in 18th century thinking and manner of speaking. This, her first novel, was shortlisted for the 2018 Women’s Prize for Fiction.

If you are interested in 18th century British life, you must read The Mermaid and Mrs. Hancock by Imogen Gowar.