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The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock

3.88  ·  Rating details ·  2,088 Ratings  ·  397 Reviews
This voyage is special. It will change everything…

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
Hardcover, 496 pages
Published January 25th 2018 by Harvill Secker
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Sally this is definitely an adult read. the writing style alone is quite beautiful and sophisticated, there's quite a serious, melancholy thing going on in…morethis is definitely an adult read. the writing style alone is quite beautiful and sophisticated, there's quite a serious, melancholy thing going on in latter part of book plus subject matter: prostitutes, 18th century punishment... is probably not for YA. This is NOT Disney's'Little Mermaid' !!(less)
Ruth Afaik it just means the fruit. In 18th century England pineapples, imported from far away, were very expensive luxuries and hence status symbols.

Community Reviews

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Hannah Greendale
Click here to watch a video review of this book on my channel, From Beginning to Bookend.

A coquettish gallivant through 1780’s London, where a man’s life is upended by the gift of an infant mermaid’s corpse, and a courtesan frets over her waning beauty. Magical realism is as glittering and elusive as a mercurial sea nymph. The pacing is a slow stream, but the prose is an aphrodisiac. A promising debut; Gowar is an author to watch.
Jan 03, 2018 rated it really liked it
This debut atmospheric historical fiction by Imogen Hermes Gowar is an enthralling tale set in 18th century London, where much is in flux with the world irrevocably changing culturally and so much that is new is being introduced to society such as the tantalising strange foods. It should be made clear the fantasy element suggested by the mermaid in the title stays in the background until the latter stages of the story. It is 1785, and John Hancock, merchant, frets over the possible loss of one o ...more
Sep 07, 2017 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: arc, fiction
In this historical novel, Jonah Hancock, a widowed merchant, comes into possession of a dead mermaid. While trying to find a way to make money of this, he crosses paths with Angelica Neal, a courtesan whose protector has unexpectedly died.

My thoughts on this are very complicated. I don’t think I have been this unsure how to rate a book this year yet. Therefore, here are my thoughts, first in list form and then more elaborate:


- mesmerizing language
- wonderful description
- immersive setting
Jan 21, 2018 rated it it was amazing
I insist you all read Imogen Hermes Gowar’s fabulous debut The Mermaid & Mrs Hancock; a historical romp with wonderful characters, saucy shenanigans, dark glimmering corners of 1700’s society and possibly a mermaid or two. An utter treat. I need say no more.
Helene Jeppesen
Jun 14, 2018 rated it it was amazing
What a wonderful, whimsical book! I admit I found this novel very daunting because of its size and because of its plot which has to do with mermaids and is in addition historical fiction. For that reason, I was hesitant to pick it up, and I let it stay put on my bookshelves for several weeks.
One day, however, I decided it was time to read it, and from the very first chapters I knew that this was not at all the daunting story I was expecting. Instead, it started out with the most intriguing plot
Evelina | AvalinahsBooks
Keeping in mind the name of the book, this is the rough experience of me reading it:
10% --- hm, super curious. No mermaid, no Mrs Hancock. What is to come of this?
20% --- yes. The mermaid. Still no Mrs Hancock though. But there are other interesting things going on, so no matter!
50% --- o....kay. Back to square one. But I'm attached to the characters by now! There's still half the book... WHY is it called that though??

75% --- it seems everything is settled! At least we've got Mrs Hancock no
Video review here:
An impressive novel set in 1780s London that reflects on class, prostitution (in various forms), and desire. The best thing about it is the sentence-by-sentence writing, which is incredibly poised and nuanced (especially for a debut novelist). The settings are richly imagined and atmospheric, and the characters are wonderful (especially Angelica Neal, a vivacious escort who finds her glory days coming to a close). But I can't help thinki
Ova Incekaraoglu
This is by far the best read of the year for me so far and will be an all-time favourite. Click here for the full review

Astonishing storytelling and highly atmospheric, surprising to believe it's a debut novel. Has a few flaws here and there but I loved it so much wouldn't let anyone say anything nasty about this book!

The story is set in late 1700's London. Mr Hancock, a wealthy merchant, acquires a mermaid unwillingly to compensate a loss in trade. Although he considers himself no showman, he i
I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review,

I think I was expecting more from this than delivered - and I don't think that's entirely the books fault. I was expecting magical realism, fantasy and mermaids based on the blurb. What I got was a well written historical romance novel, steeped in descriptive prose that felt a little flat to me.

The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock follows a humble merchant and his love for a courtesan, whom he meets after a chance encounter with a mermaid.

I recieved this via Goodreads Giveaways in exchange for an honest review. All my opinons are my own.
Writing: 4 stars
Characters: 4 stars
Plot/Pacing: Strong first two acts, not so strong last act.

For the most part I did enjoy this(life stuff kept me from reading it quick) but the last part had me bored at times and my eyes glazing over. I thought it a bit weaker than the first two parts and not as engaging... I found myself skimming some after page 410.

This is the type where you'll either love
Peter Boyle
Jonah Hancock, a widowed merchant, lives a lonely life in a dark Deptford house, with only his young niece Sukie for company. His world is flipped upside down when one of his ship's captains returns from a voyage with a "mermaid" in tow (really a monkey's torso with a fishtail attached, but nobody seems the wiser). Hancock puts this specimen on show and becomes the talk of London, making a tidy sum of money in the process. The exhibition also causes him to cross paths with Angelica Neal, a fetch ...more
Dec 30, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Superlative immersive historical fiction! Loved it. The writing was evocative with details of sights, sounds, behaviours and vocabulary of the age. There was no way for me to predict how events would turn out, but it was a wonderful read. Heartily recommended to lovers of (Georgian) historical fiction.
Many thanks to Netgalley for an arc of this book. All opinions are my own.
Ein Buch, von dem ich GANZ ANDERES erwartet hatte…
Aber erstmal eine Lobeshymne an die Gestaltung: Das Cover ist wunderwunderschön – das Gold glitzert und glänzt und das Muster zieht sich bis auf die Innenseiten fort. Ein wahres Schmuckstück. Wie die Meerjungfrau.

Die ist nämlich wahrlich keine Arielle, sondern hässlich wie die Nacht. Und Mausetot.
Also wer, wie ich, eine verträumte Fantasy Geschichte über eine bezirzende Meerjungfrau erwartet hat, der wird enttäuscht werden – oder auch nicht
Gumble's Yard
UPDATE: I said in my review that the book had a strong chance of success in the Women's Prize, it was subsequently longlisted and has now made the shortlist

I spent much of the second half of 2017 and early 2018 reading experimental fiction: the Goldsmith shortlist; various books I had anticipated making that list; each of the Republic of Consciousness Prize longlist at least twice; a number of other books submitted for that prize; other books from the wonderful small presses that I discovered th
Eric Anderson
Apr 22, 2018 rated it it was amazing
What a joy it was reading this novel! And I'm so glad I purposely saved it as the last book to read from The Women's Prize longlist. I had a hunch it'd be a pleasurable and immersive story and it was. It's the kind of book I was eager to get back to every time I had to put it down which is something I can't say about some other literary novels no matter how clever or interesting they are. Given how much I enjoyed reading both Imogen Hermes Gowar's debut novel and “The Parentations” I'm beginning ...more
Roger Brunyate
Feb 28, 2018 rated it really liked it
Three books, each different, but mostly quite good

Apparently, this debut novel was the subject of a bidding war between British publishers and became the most eagerly awaited new fiction of the season. It deserves such interest. Imogen Hermes Gowar’s writing ranges from good to excellent, and her feeling for the late eighteenth century period is quite acute and often great fun. I shall quote one of the more ribald passages later (in a spoiler, in deference to sensitive eyes). Here, though, is a
Dannii Elle
May 22, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Actual rating 4.5/5 stars. This is my ninth book read in the Women's Prize for Fiction longlist.

A merchant comes into far more fortune than he could have ever perceived owning, but with it comes the realisation of the extent of his own happiness and just how much his new situation can alter it. A courtesan experiences a change in circumstance that sees her once again thrust upon society, but she then is faced with the dawning understanding of her inability to take charge of her own destiny and d
One of my favourite books of the year!
The Mermaid and Mrs. Hancock, a historical novel set in 1780s London, follows Jonah Hancock, a merchant who finds himself in possession of a mermaid, and Angelica Neal, a courtesan whose protector has recently died. Their narratives intersect rather early on, and the novel mostly follows their relationship over a rather meandering 500 pages.

From the very first page, I wanted to love this book. I was struck instantly by Imogen Hermes Gowar's prose, which is some of the best I think I've ever read
Shawn Mooney
Feb 18, 2018 marked it as did-not-finish
I listened to about 20% of this on audio, wonderfully narrated by Juliet Stevenson, so wonderfully that it took me that long to conclude I was listening to a well-written piece of fluff, the literary equivalent of a Disney movie.
Umut Rados
Feb 28, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This post will be me raving about how good this book was! It’s the best book I’ve read this year so far, and probably one of my all time favourites. For full review, please visit my blog:
First, let me put a disclaimer. If you don’t enjoy slow moving books and character driven stories, maybe this is not for you. Mermaid and Mrs. Hancock is a historical fiction that has mesmerising language, amazing atmospheric setting, lots of metaphors and character build
Mar 25, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: britain, 2018-read
The German version of this book is published by Bastei in its division “Bastei Entertainment” – and the book is entertaining indeed! First-time novelist Imogen Hermes Gowar takes the reader to 18th century London with a tale about the ambivalent relation between ambition and happiness. When Jonah Hancock, a humble merchant, is presented with a dead mermaid by one of his captains, he decides to first put the corpse on display and later sell it, thus making a fortune with his novelty item. But to ...more
Dec 27, 2017 rated it really liked it
This has been one of my most anticipated reads for 2018. As a fan of historical fiction, I was excited that Imogen Hermes Gowar has chosen to set her tale in the 18th century London and her description of the town and its people is colourful, atmospheric and drew me right in.

The story is sold as a mix of historical fiction with magical realism and yes, there is some magical realism but that really only occurs at the end of the book (as in the last 15%) and is what ultimately brought this book d
image: Mermaids

Visit the locations in the novel
1700s London

Merchants, mystery and mermaids....what’s not to like!? Now, this book is not as focused on the mermaid as you might think from the blurb but take the mermaid as a mystery in the background which draws the world of traders and courtesans together then you have the full focus of a historically intriguing read.

The author has a knack for evoking London of the 1700s. The ships in the dock, the stench of the streets, the glamour of the courtesans, th
Nov 09, 2017 rated it did not like it
Shelves: netgalley, historical
First of all, I'd like to thank Netgalley and the publisher for providing me with an ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review.

I don't think I've ever read a book that was so thoroughly not for me in my life. I really struggled to get through the pages - it took me well over a month to read, even though I've been known to read books of equal length in two days flat - and I just never warmed to it at all.

I'll start with the good points, just to get them out of the way - firstly, the autho
Find all my book reviews, plus fascinating author interviews, exclusive guest posts and book extracts, on my blog:

The Mermaid and Mrs. Hancock is notable for its cast of memorable female characters. There’s Angelica, the beautiful, capricious, independent-minded courtesan who’s unfortunately insufficiently financially independent not to be in need of a new protector. There’s the procuress to high society and Angelica’s erstwhile employer, Mrs Chappell, a
Jonathan Pool
May 30, 2018 rated it really liked it
It can’t be easy to write a novel set in the c.18th and to capture the language of the times, and the atmosphere. I thought Imogen Hermes Gowar did a great job and wrote very well, with a superb vocabulary of unusual words.
It is very Dickensian in its portrayal of character- but that’s not a bad thing.
Ill repute is defended; those struggling to make a living indulge in the oldest profession, for the most part, without shame.

In particular the “experienced” ladies of the lower society are excellen
MaryannC.Book Fiend
A book I savoured, that is why it took a little while to read I didn't want rush through it. Sometimes bawdy and a little naughty.
Mar 17, 2018 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: fans of historical fiction with a fantasy twist, such as The Essex Serpent and The Night Circus
Lovely book outside and in. Not the heaviest on plot, more of a character piece, and to its credit the characters are all very interesting, if not entirely likeable. Although I felt some of their subplots were deserving of more attention than they got, particularly Polly's. The book's biggest strength is undeniably the writing - Ms. Gowar has a remarkable way with words and I look forward to reading anything else she publishes in future.
Definitely deserves its place on the Women's Prize for Fict
Jul 03, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Thank you to the publisher for sending the ARC. A pleasant surprise as I was looking forward to reading this book.

This is historical fiction of the London area in the late 1700’s. It also has some magical realism which is important to the story and yet not a large piece of it. There is a mermaid, women trying to find independence in a time where their choices are to be married or kept in a ‘nunnery,‘ and a popular pastime of viewing curiosities.

The writing is beautiful and some of the characte
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Imogen studied Archaeology, Anthropology and Art History at UEA’s Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts before going on to work in museums. She began to write small pieces of fiction inspired by the artefacts she worked with and around, and in 2013 won the Malcolm Bradbury Memorial Scholarship to study for an MA in Creative Writing at UEA.

She won the Curtis Brown Prize for her dissertation, which grew
More about Imogen Hermes Gowar

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“The stories are of men who, walking on the shore, hear sweet voices far away, see a soft white back turned to them, and - heedless of looming clouds and creaking winds - forget their children's hands and the click of their wives' needles, all for the sake of the half-seen face behind a tumble of gale-tossed greenish hair.” 10 likes
“As to her education..." says Angelica.
"'Tis done," says Mrs Lippard. "Her school could do no more for her."
"I learned nothing," growls Sukie.
"You read every book they had."
"If I had known there were so few, I would have read slower.”
More quotes…