On Hist Fic Saturday
Lets go back to Georgian England...1785
One September evening in 1785, the merchant Jonah Hancock hears urgent knocking on his front door. One of his captains is waiting eagerly on the step. He has sold Jonah’s ship for what appears to be a mermaid.
As gossip spreads through the docks, coffee shops, parlours and brothels, everyone wants to see Mr Hancock’s marvel. Its arrival spins him out of his ordinary existence and through the doors of high society. At an opulent party, he makes the acquaintance of Angelica Neal, the most desirable woman he has ever laid eyes on… and a courtesan of great accomplishment. This chance meeting will steer both their lives onto a dangerous new course, a journey on which they will learn that priceless things come at the greatest cost…
What will be the cost of their ambitions? And will they be able to escape the destructive power mermaids are said to possess?
Middle aged widower, Jonah Hancock is awakened early one morning to the news that one of his merchant ships has been lost at sea and in place of his livelihood the captain of his fleet has returned with, of all things, a mermaid. Jonah is both dismayed and intrigued by this turn of events and more than a little alarmed at being the owner of such an unusual curiosity.
With the need to recoup his losses, Jonah allows the public a tantalising glimpse of this creature and his mermaid exhibition causes a furore in London, with the great, and the not so good, queuing to see it. Against his better judgement Jonah comes into contact with Mrs Chappell, a notorious brothel keeper, who has her own more risqué ideas on how to enhance the mermaid’s effect. However, Jonah’s uneasy association with the brothel keeper brings him into contact with Angelica Neal, a famed courtesan, who is the most beautiful woman Jonah Hancock has ever seen.
This is a really intriguing story about love, greed and obsession and is a real journey through Georgian London, with its fascination for curiosities and its ambiguous morality. The characters are a fascinating bunch, from the rather staid atmosphere of Jonah Hancock’s merchant’s house, to the bawdy illumination of Mrs Chappell’s establishment, there is never a moment when the story doesn’t draw you in. Angelica Neal takes some getting used to, she’s brash and lively, petulant and greedy and yet, by the end of the story I really liked her spirit and determination.
The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock, is really a story of two definite halves; with, I think, the second half of the story being stronger than the first, but throughout it all is a real sense of time and place, and Georgian London with all its pettiness, squabbles and obsession with society is brought to life in quite a vivid way.
I listened to The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock as an Audible recording, which was beautifully narrated by Juliet Stevenson. ( 17 hours and 19 minutes)
About the Author
Imogen Hermes Gowar studied Archaeology, Anthropology and Art History before going on to work in museums. She began to write fiction inspired by the artefacts she worked with, and in 2013 won the Malcolm Bradbury Memorial Scholarship to study for an MA in Creative Writing at UEA. The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock was a finalist in the MsLexia First Novel Competition and shortlisted for the inaugural Deborah Rogers Foundation Writers’ Award.