Title: The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock
Writer: Imogen Hermes Gowar
Publishing House: Vintage
Date of Publication: January 24th 2019 (first published January 25th 2018)
Rating: 5 stars
‘’Somewhere a tide is turning. In that place where no land can be seen, where horizon to horizon is spanned by shifting twinkling faithless water, a wave humps it back and turns over with a sigh, and sends its salted whispering to Mr Hancock’s ear.’’
London, 1785. Swiftly, we are let in two very different worlds that are about to be united under extraordinary circumstances. Mr Hancock, a moderately wealthy merchant, has acquired a marvellous creature. Angelica Neal is an accomplished courtesan that has come to admire his new possession. And what may that be? Well, a mermaid! And now, they are thrown into a series of dubious choices, chances and hopes in the opulent city and the peaceful countryside.
‘’We fill their minds even when we are far away. They fancy they see us even when they do not. They tell one another stories about us.’’
Imogen Hermes Gowar creates a very special example of Historical Fiction. Beyond the magnificent depiction of 18th century London, beyond our vivid transportation to the world of the courtesans and the merchants, two professions that seem to look for wonders, taking every chance that comes their way, beyond the need for love, she connects the elusive, legendary figure of the Mermaid to the ‘’icon’’ of the beautiful, desired women. Both are sought after, tirelessly wanted. Once someone is fortunate enough to ‘’possess’’ them – literally, mind you – they become creatures to be put in a cage for profit. The Mermaid brings money. The Woman brings earthly pleasure but must ‘’belong’’ to one man only. Even if he is a scoundrel and a liar.
‘’A loss is not a void.’’
Imogen Hermes Gowar populates her beautiful story with fascinating characters. Good and bad, most of them grey. Real, tangible, easy to identify in all societies. But the main duo is a true force. Angelica’s spirit seems to mirror Hancock’s calm and need for a life with meaning. Her unafraid attitude to stand for herself against men and women who want to exploit and diminish her reflects his decision to abandon his microcosm and see all anew. They both make mistakes – who doesn’t? – and learn from them under the ever-watchful eye of the Mermaid.
The element of Magical Realism is cleverly and uniquely used to advance the story, walking side-by-side with very human, very familiar emotions and obstacles. And this is how an extraordinary novel is born.
‘’I am here; I am here; you are not alone. Here I am; I am grief, the living child of your suffering. I am the grief that sits within you; I am the grief that sits between you.
You will bury me but I shall rise up.
You will not know me, but I shall make myself known to you.’’