The Mermaid and Mrs. Hancock by Imogen Hermes Gowar
I am forever catching up. My problem, as a lover of classic novels, is that I'm not on the look-out for new voices in old styles. Hermes Gowar's debut novel is like a winkle in time, so convincing in its recreation of the sights, the smells, the fashions, the brothels and society of Regency London that it's hard to believe itl was written less than a decade ago.
Set in 1785, the story follows the fortunes of a lonely trader, Jonah Hancock, whose ship has been traded for a rare curiosity, a wizened specimen of a mermaid. To recover his lost investment, Johan must put the thing on display—which not only earns him back a fortune but brings him into the society of the most desirable courtesan of London, Angelica Neal. Angelica, an impetuous beauty, has aspirations of controlling her own destiny. During an unhappy affair of the heart, she endures the innocent company of the trader and demands, in jest. a mermaid of her own. Jonah sets out to provide one for her.
The vivid characters of Gowar’s creation sparkle and beguile—the imperious bawd Mrs. Chappel and her nunnery of young prostitutes; Jonah’s niece and erstwhile housekeeper, Sukie; Angelica’s darkly disapproving companion, Mrs. Frost. There are many twists and surprises for the reader. A darker undercurrent of themes lurk here too: the nature of desire, confinement by society, the subjugation of women and their destructive revenge.
Hermes Gowar's work sparkles, her prose is concise yet poetic, and the narrative voice is strong. The Mermaid and Mrs. Hancock intimates that the folly of humankind is our inability to resist temptation—even when the peril in our actions are abundantly clear. This is an enchanting story.