Sharing a Chair | Book Club

- Book Review: The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock -

by Imogen Hermes Gowar


Book Peak: The imagery of the book is faultless, written with extreme care, research and dedication. It was clear that the author had thoroughly explored the era down to minute detail, before I even knew anything about her. It is impressive.

Book Pit:  The pace of the novel is slow, which is overpowered by the incredible writing style, however for me, perseverance does not necessarily pay off culminating in feeling immense dissatisfaction at the ending. 

Favourite Quote: "A loss is not a void. A loss is a presence all its own; a loss takes up space; a loss is born just as any other thing that lives."

Similar Reads: The Essex Serpent, The Night Circus



This kind of book is right up my street. I love historical fiction, and I am quickly realising, the older I get, that it might just be my favourite genre. So having seen countless bloggers and avid readers raving about this one it went straight on my 'to read' list. 

Upon starting the book I realised that it was not quite what I had expected, however, I know from experience that this isn't necessarily a bad thing. Many books I've read have turned out to be so much better than I had imagined they would be, even if first impressions had indicated otherwise. So I stuck it out.  

For mermaids are the most unnatural of creatures and their hearts are empty of love.

I had thought the book would be about a Mermaid, some mystical creature that was integral to the story, and I would be excused, given the title. However it becomes a tiny stitch in a tapestry woven from many other tales that don't always come to anything. 

Mr Hancock, a merchant, comes to acquire a mermaid. It is not the ethereal beauty of legends, but rather a gnarled and twisted foetal version of the myth. He sets out to make money from the creature, and that he does, however what he also gets is a lot more than he bargained for. 

Mrs Chappell, a madam, strikes a deal with Mr Hancock to display his mermaid within her establishment. This is where we encounter Angelica Neal, a courtesan who has recently lost her 'keeper' and is on the lookout for a new one. 

Its appearance is unbeautiful. It is not what people expect of a mermaid.

The story carries itself on mirroring themes between mythical mermaids and females of the time, lightly touching on the idea of being a trapped woman trying to obtain power and purpose in a world ruled by men. 

One sub story, which promises to tackle something beyond the restraints of gender, follows a mixed race prostitute called Polly who manages to escape from a 'job'. Much like her miraculous disappearance from this particular party, she vanishes from the plot never to be seen until the very end when we wonder if the author suddenly stumbled across her in her memory again. 

There are many metaphors throughout the book, some more obvious than others. The moral of the story is buried so deeply it is not easily accessible.

The book lures you into a place where you accept it as a real, viable story despite the appearance of mermaids, and so magical realism is not really apparent. That is until the end of the book when we are suddenly expected to accept some strange mystical happenings and it doesn't quite sit right. 

I cry out and there is a dull nothing.

Overall I found the book went at a glacial pace, I kept reading hoping that the story would turn a corner and reveal a major twist or unveiling that would make the journey worthwhile. Sadly I met my destination at the same tentative pace that I had sought it, rather than the climatic exit I had endeavoured to find awaiting me. The writing, setting and astounding attention to detail that went into this piece of work seem wasted somewhat as this could have been so much more.



Rating 3/5


The words spoke from behind a mask may be bolder than those uttered barefaced, but this need not mean they are more honest.

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