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The Mermaid and Mrs. Hancock

3.57  ·  Rating details ·  15,638 ratings  ·  2,344 reviews
One September evening in 1785, the merchant Jonah Hancock finds one of his captains waiting eagerly on his doorstep. 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 s
Hardcover, 487 pages
Published September 11th 2018 by Harper (first published January 25th 2018)
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Sean Ollett Any none over 200 years old because they would be dead and could avoid reading it completely.
Ruth Afaik it just means the fruit. In 18th century England pineapples, imported from far away, were very expensive luxuries and hence status symbols.

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Average rating 3.57  · 
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 ·  15,638 ratings  ·  2,344 reviews

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Sep 07, 2017 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction, arc
In this historical novel, Jonah Hancock, a widowed merchant, comes into possession of a dead mermaid. While trying to find a way to make money of this, he crosses paths with Angelica Neal, a courtesan whose protector has unexpectedly died.

My thoughts on this are very complicated. I don’t think I have been this unsure how to rate a book this year yet. Therefore, here are my thoughts, first in list form and then more elaborate:


- mesmerizing language
- wonderful description
- immersive setting
Hannah Greendale
Click here to watch a video review of this book on my channel, From Beginning to Bookend.

A coquettish gallivant through 1780’s London, where a man’s life is upended by the gift of an infant mermaid’s corpse, and a courtesan frets over her waning beauty. Magical realism is as glittering and elusive as a mercurial sea nymph. The pacing is a slow stream, but the prose is an aphrodisiac. A promising debut; Gowar is an author to watch.
Jul 19, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
What a surprise! What a discovery! The novel is truly amazing regarding the plot and the language. I felt like I was reading a book written in the 18th century. The period details, tea bowls and coffee shops among others, are marvellous, which does not surprise as the Author has worked for several museums. But what really swept me off my feet (sofa) was incorporating a shell-grotto which reminds me of famous Pope's grotto at Twickenham. This novel is simply outstanding! ...more
This debut atmospheric historical fiction by Imogen Hermes Gowar is an enthralling tale set in 18th century London, where much is in flux with the world irrevocably changing culturally and so much that is new is being introduced to society such as the tantalising strange foods. It should be made clear the fantasy element suggested by the mermaid in the title stays in the background until the latter stages of the story. It is 1785, and John Hancock, merchant, frets over the possible loss of one o ...more
Jan 21, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I insist you all read Imogen Hermes Gowar’s fabulous debut The Mermaid & Mrs Hancock; a historical romp with wonderful characters, saucy shenanigans, dark glimmering corners of 1700’s society and possibly a mermaid or two. An utter treat. I need say no more.
Amalia Gkavea
‘’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 courtesa
Richard (on hiatus)
The Mermaid And Mrs Hancock, the debut novel by Imogen Hermes Gowar is set in London in the year 1785.
Mr Hancock is a mild mannered widower and moderately successful merchant.
As the novel opens he’s very worried. His ship, with full cargo, has not returned from a trading voyage. After a long, tense period of waiting there is a knock on the door. His ship’s captain, in a state of great excitement explains that the ship is no more. In his travels about the globe Captain Tysoe Jones made the dram

This was my pick for the September 2018 Book of the Month box!

DNF @ Page 149/496

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

Friends, life is just too short to read books that feel like a chore. On top of racist comments, use of slurs for Romani people, questionable antisemitic speech, slut shaming, and other gross things because of “historical accuracy!” Miss me with all that, please. And the last chapter I finished (14) literally had a questionable or
Helene Jeppesen
Jun 14, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
What a wonderful, whimsical book! I admit I found this novel very daunting because of its size and because of its plot which has to do with mermaids and is in addition historical fiction. For that reason, I was hesitant to pick it up, and I let it stay put on my bookshelves for several weeks.
One day, however, I decided it was time to read it, and from the very first chapters I knew that this was not at all the daunting story I was expecting. Instead, it started out with the most intriguing plot
Evelina | AvalinahsBooks
Keeping in mind the name of the book, this is the rough experience of me reading it:
10% --- hm, super curious. No mermaid, no Mrs Hancock. What is to come of this?
20% --- yes. The mermaid. Still no Mrs Hancock though. But there are other interesting things going on, so no matter!
50% --- o....kay. Back to square one. But I'm attached to the characters by now! There's still half the book... WHY is it called that though??

75% --- it seems everything is settled! At least we've got Mrs Hancoc
Jennifer ~ TarHeelReader
4 lyrical stars to The Mermaid and Mrs. Hancock! 🧜‍♀️ 🧜‍♀️ 🧜‍♀️ 🧜‍♀️

In 1780s London, Jonah Hancock is a merchant and owns a ship. A captain knocks on his door urgently with the news he’s sold Hancock’s ship in return for a mermaid.

Word of the mermaid spreads quickly like sensational things do, and everyone wants to lay eyes on the sight. This mermaid is the key to Hancock climbing into high society, and that he does, with speed.

It is at a most prestigious party that Hancock meets the alluring
I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review,

I think I was expecting more from this than delivered - and I don't think that's entirely the books fault. I was expecting magical realism, fantasy and mermaids based on the blurb. What I got was a well written historical romance novel, steeped in descriptive prose that felt a little flat to me.

The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock follows a humble merchant and his love for a courtesan, whom he meets after a chance encounter with a mermaid.

Ova - Excuse My Reading
This is by far the best read of the year for me so far and will be an all-time favourite. Click here for the full review

Astonishing storytelling and highly atmospheric, surprising to believe it's a debut novel. Has a few flaws here and there but I loved it so much wouldn't let anyone say anything nasty about this book!

The story is set in late 1700's London. Mr Hancock, a wealthy merchant, acquires a mermaid unwillingly to compensate a loss in trade. Although he considers himself no showman, he i
Dec 30, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Superlative immersive historical fiction! Loved it. The writing was evocative with details of sights, sounds, behaviours and vocabulary of the age. There was no way for me to predict how events would turn out, but it was a wonderful read. Heartily recommended to lovers of (Georgian) historical fiction.
Many thanks to Netgalley for an arc of this book. All opinions are my own.
Nov 09, 2017 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: wbw, netgalley, historical
First of all, I'd like to thank Netgalley and the publisher for providing me with an ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review.

I don't think I've ever read a book that was so thoroughly not for me in my life. I really struggled to get through the pages - it took me well over a month to read, even though I've been known to read books of equal length in two days flat - and I just never warmed to it at all.

I'll start with the good points, just to get them out of the way - firstly, the autho
May 29, 2020 rated it liked it
Shelves: current-lit-uk
I cannot decide how I feel about this unusual book!
It’s a historical novel - with a dash of the surreal. It’s about passion and obsession, and about what happens when your obsession is met!
The time is 1785, and merchant Jonah Hancock finds one of his captains on his doorstep.......he has sold Jonah's ship for what appears to be a mermaid.
As gossip spreads through the city everyone wants to see Mr Hancock’s curio!
When his mermaid comes to the attention of brothel (bawd) owner Mrs Chappell, Jon
Peter Boyle
Jonah Hancock, a widowed merchant, lives a lonely life in a dark Deptford house, with only his young niece Sukie for company. His world is flipped upside down when one of his ship's captains returns from a voyage with a "mermaid" in tow (really a monkey's torso with a fishtail attached, but nobody seems the wiser). Hancock puts this specimen on show and becomes the talk of London, making a tidy sum of money in the process. The exhibition also causes him to cross paths with Angelica Neal, a fetch ...more
Brittany Lee
Aug 15, 2018 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2018-arcs
This is NOT a happy mermaid tale, despite the beautiful, rich cover.

I usually LOVE mermaid tales, depressing or not...

The book was loooonnngggg. It is written historically (the 1700s), and at some points, I had no idea what was going on because of the outdated language/time period. Hats off to the author for her extensive research, but I have none of that knowledge and am not going to be constantly researching while reading for leisure. There were certain things brought up over and over like me
Jun 11, 2019 rated it did not like it
I could not get into this book, and I almost DNF this book many times. I wish I did DNF this book because There was nothing I liked about the book it at the end of finishing it. (*)
Jennifer (Insert Lit Pun)
Video review here:
An impressive novel set in 1780s London that reflects on class, prostitution (in various forms), and desire. The best thing about it is the sentence-by-sentence writing, which is incredibly poised and nuanced (especially for a debut novelist). The settings are richly imagined and atmospheric, and the characters are wonderful (especially Angelica Neal, a vivacious escort who finds her glory days coming to a close). But I can't help thinki
The Mermaid and Mrs. Hancock, a historical novel set in 1780s London, follows Jonah Hancock, a merchant who finds himself in possession of a mermaid, and Angelica Neal, a courtesan whose protector has recently died. Their narratives intersect rather early on, and the novel mostly follows their relationship over a rather meandering 500 pages.

From the very first page, I wanted to love this book. I was struck instantly by Imogen Hermes Gowar's prose, which is some of the best I think I've ever read
Roger Brunyate
Feb 28, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Three books, each different, but mostly quite good

Apparently, this debut novel was the subject of a bidding war between British publishers and became the most eagerly awaited new fiction of the season. It deserves such interest. Imogen Hermes Gowar’s writing ranges from good to excellent, and her feeling for the late eighteenth century period is quite acute and often great fun. I shall quote one of the more ribald passages later (in a spoiler, in deference to sensitive eyes). Here, though, is a
Gumble's Yard - Golden Reviewer
UPDATE: I said in my review that the book had a strong chance of success in the Women's Prize, it was subsequently longlisted and has now made the shortlist

I spent much of the second half of 2017 and early 2018 reading experimental fiction: the Goldsmith shortlist; various books I had anticipated making that list; each of the Republic of Consciousness Prize longlist at least twice; a number of other books submitted for that prize; other books from the wonderful small presses that I discovered th
I have been intending to read this ever since it was shortlisted for last year's Women's Prize for Fiction. It is undoubtedly readable and entertaining, and there is plenty of convincing 18th century detail, but for me the central premise was just not credible enough to justify such a long book. ...more
If you ever happen to catch a mermaid, beware of her powers. She can lure you into the depths of the sea or make you believe that she can give you all happiness you desire or just as easily drive you insane. Mr Hancock's mermaid transformed his life in every possible way, and this glimmering, sea water smelling, green, gold and turquoise jewellery box of a novel put my life on hold too, in between all the easter family obligations. I must admit the exquisite cover and a recommendation from Madel ...more
Jun 25, 2018 rated it liked it
I recieved this via Goodreads Giveaways in exchange for an honest review. All my opinons are my own.
Writing: 4 stars
Characters: 4 stars
Plot/Pacing: Strong first two acts, not so strong last act.

For the most part I did enjoy this(life stuff kept me from reading it quick) but the last part had me bored at times and my eyes glazing over. I thought it a bit weaker than the first two parts and not as engaging... I found myself skimming some after page 410.

This is the type where you'll either love
Eric Anderson
Apr 22, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
What a joy it was reading this novel! And I'm so glad I purposely saved it as the last book to read from The Women's Prize longlist. I had a hunch it'd be a pleasurable and immersive story and it was. It's the kind of book I was eager to get back to every time I had to put it down which is something I can't say about some other literary novels no matter how clever or interesting they are. Given how much I enjoyed reading both Imogen Hermes Gowar's debut novel and “The Parentations” I'm beginning ...more
Book of the Month
Why I love it
by Brianna Goodman

If your first thought upon seeing this book was a story starring a redheaded woman with a tail, let me clear the air: This is not one of those mermaid tales. The magical creature that haunts these pages is small, clawed, and, most importantly, dead. And yet, it is this small curiosity that brings together an unlikely cast of characters at the heart of this transporting novel set in 18th-century London: shady brothel keepers, corrupt politicians, and the lonely, hum
Katie Lumsden
Apr 15, 2019 rated it really liked it
I really thoroughly enjoyed this book. The writing was fantastic, the historical detail wonderful, and the main plot genuinely lovely in many ways. I thought the charactisation was really superb too. I probably could have done with a little less of the 'mermaid' subplot, and there was one other subplot I would have liked to see more resolved, but overall this is such a strong novel and one I'd highly recommend. ...more
Shawn Mooney (Shawn The Book Maniac)
I listened to about 20% of this on audio, wonderfully narrated by Juliet Stevenson, so wonderfully that it took me that long to conclude I was listening to a well-written piece of fluff, the literary equivalent of a Disney movie.
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  • Transcription
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Imogen studied Archaeology, Anthropology and Art History at UEA’s Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts before going on to work in museums. She began to write small pieces of fiction inspired by the artefacts she worked with and around, and in 2013 won the Malcolm Bradbury Memorial Scholarship to study for an MA in Creative Writing at UEA.

She won the Curtis Brown Prize for her dissertation, which grew

Articles featuring this book

Imogen Hermes Gowar's debut novel The Mermaid and Mrs. Hancock is an enchanting tale about a merchant, a prostitute, and mythical...
139 likes · 25 comments
“The stories are of men who, walking on the shore, hear sweet voices far away, see a soft white back turned to them, and - heedless of looming clouds and creaking winds - forget their children's hands and the click of their wives' needles, all for the sake of the half-seen face behind a tumble of gale-tossed greenish hair.” 19 likes
“As to her education..." says Angelica.
"'Tis done," says Mrs Lippard. "Her school could do no more for her."
"I learned nothing," growls Sukie.
"You read every book they had."
"If I had known there were so few, I would have read slower.”
More quotes…