I know, I’m terrible – I said I would be reading this months ago when the Women’s book prize list 2018 was announced! As it was, life got in the way, and I have only just finished it. I then spent far too long primping the book for it’s photoshoot
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?
Blurb from Goodreads
Honestly, it took me a little while to get used to the present tense used in the narrative, but once I got invested in the story I stopped noticing and when I got invested I was gripped. It took me a good few weeks to get past what I consider to be a slow start, but once it started going, it was an interesting, well written, historical adult fiction novel. I think part of my struggles in reading this book is due to the blurb – I was expecting a potentially whimsical tale about the supernatural and ended up with an (admittedly well written) historical fiction about a shifting middle class and courtesans in Georgian London.
The viewpoint switches between (predominantly) Mr Hancock and Angelica Neal, with a few asides from the girls employed as courtesans in a brothel. The two characters live very different lives, and have very different personalities – Angelica is a spoilt child while Mr Hancock is a small-time businessman who suddenly finds himself courted by the upper echelons – their worlds do not mix, and world never have mixed were it not for the mermaid husk. This story is about two worlds colliding, and the different moralities of the two worlds.
The language is very sophisticated, the descriptions rich, the characters very flawed people in a flawed world. There was one side character, Polly, who had an occasional POV, but I’m still not entirely sure how it tied into the entire narrative beyond a criticism of the world the book is set. The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock is undeniably adult historical fiction, following the genre conventions for sex (and as one of the main characters is a courtesan, they don’t shy away from mentioning sex) and social conventions. I know the sales pitch for this book says that its about curiosity and obsession, but I don’t think curiosity is one of the key themes – I think society and obsession would be more appropriate, because while the mermaid is a curiosity, this book is about how the people interact with Hancock once he has obtained the mermaid. It is about the follies of society, and how shallow people can be, in my opinion.
This book was slow to start, but once it was a few chapters in, I flew through all 496 pages. I enjoyed it, but I wouldn’t say that I loved it, or that I was blown away or any other similar words. This was a good book, but I’m planning on keeping it for aesthetic reasons, rather than any emotional attachment to the story.
Goodreads score 🐝🐝🐝🐝
I loved the cover of The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock though. What did you think of the story?