I received The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock in exchange for an honest review
I read a lot of debuts; it’s always a risk – but I love finding those hidden gems when they’re still relatively undiscovered. This book was promoted as Vintage’s debut of the year and, whilst I hadn’t heard much about it from my fellow reviewers, I was drawn in by the gorgeous cover and the promise of mermaids, and went for it.
I would love to fall in love with every book I read, but unfortunately this one wasn’t really for me. It had a lot of promise – combining history, romance and magical realism, this book should work for me, yet I found myself struggling through the slow, meandering plot about characters who I just couldn’t care for.
When widowed merchant Jonah Hancock unexpectedly finds himself the owner of a dead mermaid, he attempts to make the best of it. He puts his bizarre specimen on display, and soon he finds the creature is the talk of the town, and he has been elevated to social circles he’d never encountered before.
During his business endeavours, Mr Hancock meets Angelica Neal, a courtesan in her late twenties who’s protector had died suddenly and who is now struggling to find her place in the world. As the two’s stories interweave it’s difficult to understand what the main story is supposed to be, or who we should be rooting for. The author introduces a host of characters through the first half of the novel, but I struggled to connect with any of them. She does paint a colourful picture of London during this era, with a host of eclectic characters. But the combination of crude, seedy scenes with flowery, elegant language was jarring.
Things do pick up in the second half as our two main protagonists – Angelica and Mr Hancock – come together. There’s the introduction of a second, live mermaid and we finally learn who the Mrs Hancock of the title is. But, while I did enjoy this half more, as we hurtle toward the end a lot of the sub plots are tied up in a rush, or not concluded at all.
I have to remember this is a debut – and maybe I’ve just been spoilt by some really strong ones over my past few years using Netgalley. Imogen Hermes Gowar does write with elegance; her descriptions of London and the era feel evocative, immersive and well researched. This writer does have talent, but the plot and characters in this story didn’t quite work to me. I’ll be interested to see how this release does, and what she does next.