21st Century Literature discussion

The Mermaid and Mrs. Hancock
This topic is about The Mermaid and Mrs. Hancock
90 views
2019 Book Discussions > Mermaid & Mrs Hancock (Discussion, spoilers allowed) (Apr 2019)

Comments Showing 1-38 of 38 (38 new)    post a comment »
dateDown arrow    newest »

message 1: by Peter (last edited Apr 03, 2019 12:27AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Peter Mathews (pdmathews) My plan is to reread the novel bit by bit and share my thoughts along the way. Please join me on this journey!

Volume I, Chapter 1

It turns out that our main male character, Jonah Hancock, has a symbolically biblical name, lives in a house that resembles a ship, and also makes his living from trading via ships. Having just finished rereading Moby-Dick, there is some potential for some interesting symbolism there. The ship he is currently fretting over is the Calliope, also pointedly named after the Muse of Epic Poetry (and Chief of all the Muses).

Jonah is presented to us as someone who observes life from the outside, rather than participating in it - the fabulous goods he brings to England, for instance, are immediately sent off to London from his home in Deptford. This sense of alienation is enhanced by the habitual visions he has of his dead son Henry (his wife Mary died giving birth to Henry), a life that might have been. Instead, his legacy is redirected toward his niece, Sukie Lippard, daughter of his interfering sister, Hester Lippard.

The cat playing with a mouse seems to be a metaphor of Fortune playing with humanity - the shipping business is an uncertain venture - a sense reinforced by the dark presentiments that come at the end of the chapter.


Peter Mathews (pdmathews) Volume I, Chapter 2

The chapter opens with a double metaphor: the crow, symbol of doom, which flies directly ("as the crow flies") from Deptford to London, following the thread of the narrative, as it were.

Here we meet two key female characters, Angelica Neal and Eliza Frost. There are some wonderful touches of humor here - I particularly loved how Angelica uses the religious tracts handed out to prostitutes to curl her hair.

The two women are visited by Mrs. Elizabeth Chappell, a baud who is accompanied by her latest acquisitions: Polly, Elinor, and Kitty. Mrs. Chappell has come to convince Angelica to return to her brothel in the wake of her previous client's death.

Gowar draws a canny parallel between this scene and the cat and mouse in the previous chapter. "She is watching Angelica carefully, intent as a she-cat at hunt."

Notice, too, how Jonah's business in trading by ships is also applied to Angelica. "‘I have trained you well,’ she crows. ‘You are no mere whore – you are a woman of substance, as I always hope my girls will be, as fine a little frigate as ever I launched on London town.'"

Only two chapters in, and Gowar is already tying together her narrative threads. It's unusual to see such a high degree of skill in a debut novel.


message 3: by Lia (new) - added it

Lia Thanks for doing this, Peter. I was going to bail because I’m already bogged down with other (non-fic) readings. Your introduction is so tempting, I think I’m in. (Did someone say something about the Sirens?)

Speaking of Biblical allusion ...

“for in this world there is no achieving anything all alone. Cast in thy lot and share the purse ”


Not being too subtle here! I suppose Jonah is already “chosen” to be engulfed by this fateful sea-creature from the outset.

The way Jonah’s “vision” of Henry is depicted reminds me of Leopold Bloom’s “vision” of Rudy.

As for the ominous crow ... perhaps a cousin of Calliope’s magpies!


Peter Mathews (pdmathews) Thanks for sticking around Lia! I'm up to my ears in work writing a book about Jacques Lacan, teaching university classes, and preparing for an international conference at the end of this month. I should not be doing this, probably, but it is such a great book!


message 5: by Lia (new) - added it

Lia Peter wrote: "I should not be doing this, probably..."

Oh I know how that works! I expect to see many more of your frequent posts here 😛


LindaJ^ (lindajs) | 2299 comments Peter thanks for pointing out the connections between the Jonah chapter and the Angelica chapter. I missed those in the audio and kept wondering how these two disparate people would connect.


Kathleen | 254 comments Yes, thank you Peter, for any time you can spare through this process. Now that you point out the symbolism, I see it appearing everywhere. This from Chapter 9:

"Mr. Hancock is gripped by a sort of exhilarated helplessness: events sweep him onward whether he wills it or no, and he gratefully abandons himself to Providence. He has not the requisite canniness to steer his situation, and it is with relief that he says to himself, all this before me is uncharted."


message 8: by Lia (new) - added it

Lia Still thinking about Ch. 1:

“Where is the fruitful family to fill the rooms of this house, which his grandfather built and his father made fine? The dead are here, without a doubt. He feels their touch everywhere in its pitched floorboards and staircase spine, and in the voices of the church bells, St Paul’s at the front door, St Nicholas’s at the back. The hands of the shipwrights are alive here in the long curves of its beams, which recall the bellies of great ships; its lintels carved with birds and flowers, angels and swords, testament for ever to the labour and visions of men long dead.
There are no children here to marvel in their turn at the skill of Deptford woodcarvers
...
what value to his fortune if it withers on the vine with no sons to pluck it down?
And yet sometimes there is something more...”


I wonder what “more” there is — is he“disclosing” something beyond material wealth? A man who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing; on the verge of transformation? Or is this a reference to what the ship is exchanged for. (I.e. still quip pro quo blind accumulation of wealth.)

There’s something Illiadic about this rumination — his mood is colored by the death of his son; he observes the indifferent cruelty of the kitty, and then he sinks into this contemplation about generation renewal (or lack of) and inadequacy of material compensation. Could this humble-brag of his “fine house” be a mock Ekphrasis?


Peter Mathews (pdmathews) Lia, the phrase itself is deliberately ambiguous, I think. The "something more" could be so many things in the novel.

Another thing that is interesting about this opening chapter is that it features Mrs Hancock - his dead wife, Mary.

Normally the elegiac tone you identify here would signify that the unfulfilled destiny, the missed potential, is the more right and powerful one. One of the most subversive and affirmative aspects of the novel, I think, is that it challenges this kind of mindset. The reality before Jonah is the one he has to deal with, no matter what, and like the biblical Jonah, there is no point in running away from it into fantasies of his dead son.


Peter Mathews (pdmathews) Volume I, Chapter 3

The chapter opens with Jonah worrying about has happened to his ship, the Calliope. Sukie - who bears an uncanny resemblance to her mother - offers to read for him. Gowar then juxtaposes Jonah's taste for Alexander Pope to Sukie's enthusiasm for the adventurous female heroines from the novels she reads. I loved this juxtaposition, and I think Sukie is a wonderful substitute for Jonah's dead son: she is so intelligent and sharp.

The captain of the Callipoe, Tysoe Jones, turns up at the front door. He brings the unexpected news that he has sold the ship and obtained the preserved body of a mermaid. Jonah is horrified, but so is Sukie, who knows that her dowry is wrapped up in her uncle's success.

Tysoe and Jonah discuss what he can do with the mermaid. Jonah is torn between the money he can make exhibiting it, and his aspirations to become a gentleman.


message 11: by Lia (new) - added it

Lia Peter wrote: “Gowar then juxtaposes Jonah's taste for Alexander Pope to Sukie's enthusiasm for the adventurous female heroines from the novels she reads.”

I thought Jonah didn’t *really* want Pope, he’s just bantering/ pretending to resist her choice! I really enjoy their dynamics.

I just noticed Sukie’s mother is “Hester,” which I didn’t notice before when she was introduced as a sister. Now I can’t help associating her with Hester Prynne, and our Sukie with Pearl.

Spoilers ahead (spoilers are cool for this thread, right?) My thoughts on materials up to Ch. 6:

Earlier, I randomly mentioned Calliope and the magpies. I don’t think it’s particularly relevant to the story here, but it did steer me into thinking about creatures and how they can represent human experience (For Ovid: magpies that imitate human speeches fittingly represent the Pierides who defeated God in art through mimesis... which is possibly what Ovid himself was trying to do.)


So, anyway, the condition of the dead mermaid:

“It is the size of an infant, and like an infant its ribcage is delicate and pathetic beneath its parchment skin, and its head is large, and its fists are drawn up to its face. But this is as far as the comparison may be extended.
For no infant has such fearful claws, and no infant such a snarl, with such sharp fangs in it. And no infant’s torso ends in the tail of a fish.”


Reminds me of Bel’s blunt assessment of the aging mother Chappell:
“This is the problem with women. Men are not fearful; they build one another to greatness. Women believe their only power is in tearing one another down.’”


Pathetic, fragile, malicious, even in old age or death ... and still cannot escape commodification. I haven’t decided if I’m talking about the mermaid or the ladies.

Time/ aging is on both Hancock and Angelica’s minds, they’re keenly aware that they don’t have much time left to make something of their lives. The captain traded Hancock’s Calliope for a freak-show piece; the Duke’s death puts Angelica back into the courtesan commodity market. I’m keen to find out how they each face their metamorphosis through time and chance.


message 12: by Marc (last edited Apr 08, 2019 06:54PM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Marc (monkeelino) | 2572 comments Mod
Apparently, Gowar was inspired by the Fiji mermaid:

This is from an interview with WBUR:
https://www.wbur.org/hereandnow/2018/10/03/the-mermaid-and-mrs-hancock-novel

Honestly, beginning with chapter 2, I've been both amazed by and surprised at how central women's limited role and options in the late 18th century are to this tale. And yes, Lia, their lives do seem more than a little like that of the mermaid--novelties exploited or passed around, often adored when young and beautiful, but not long thereafter. Women essentially have two choices for any sort of autonomy/semi-independence: 1) Sell their bodies; or, 2) Marry well.

The whole society revolves around trade transactions and the struggle just to keep one's place, much less actually better it (this goes for the men and the women, barring the aristocracy). (Hancock wants to leave behind a dowry for Sukie, Mrs. Frost's well-being seems to depend on how lucrative Angelica's evenings go, etc., etc.)
For class is a type of bubble, a membrane around one, and although one might grow within this membrane, and strain against it, it is impossible to break free from it. And a man of nobility is always such in his soul, however he may fall; and a man of humble sort is always such in his soul, however he may climb.



Peter Mathews (pdmathews) Thanks for that Marc! Here are two more links about the Fiji mermaid:

Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fiji_me...

The Lost Museum: https://lostmuseum.cuny.edu/archive/e...

Gowar clearly borrows historical details from the Fiji mermaid, which was bought for $6,000 dollars by Captain Samuel Barrett Edes from Japanese fishermen.


Peter Mathews (pdmathews) Volume I, Chapter 4

Angelica is due to meet up with her friend and fellow prostitute, Bel Fortescue. The two have been apart, since Angelica has spent the last three years in the country with her former keeper, the deceased Duke. As such, Angelica is anxious to be back in London society.

Bel and Angelica discuss the latter's decision not to go back to Mrs Chappell, who exploits her girls by charging exorbitant prices for the smallest things. Bel points out that Mrs. Chappell has become conservative in her old age, only employing beautiful but pliable girls. She wants Angelica back, because Angelica has an x-factor that cannot be taught. Bel sets up Angelica to attend a play with a client, Mr Jennings.

The two women go to a confectioner's. Lacking money, Angelica puts on a performance about how much she wants a pineapple. The two women eat sweet treats.


message 15: by Peter (last edited Apr 08, 2019 07:26PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Peter Mathews (pdmathews) Volume I, Chapter 5

Jonah takes his mermaid to his local coffeehouse, the Pineapple (so-called because it was where that exotic fruit was first sold in London), where he makes a deal with the proprietor, Mr. Murray, to exhibit it. The coffeehouse used to be a place for science, although that reputation has declined.


Peter Mathews (pdmathews) Volume I, Chapter 6

As the two women eat their sweets, Bel reveals that she is going to marry her patron. Angelica is shocked: Bel had once sworn that being married was a kind of slavery. Bel retorts that she will simply be a prostitute on better terms.

When Angelica returns home, she finds some man overheard her performance at the confectioner's and has left her a pineapple as a gift. Eliza is nowhere to be found, so she has to rely on the incompetent maid Mary to get her dressed for the theatre. Eliza returns just in time to save the day.

Angelica returns from the theater at dawn, having earned her keep from Mr. Jennings. She wakes Eliza, who immediately chastises her for not taking up Mrs. Chappell's offer. Angelica boasts about being the center of attention at the play, washes her "commodity," and goes to sleep after making some sardonic remarks about Eliza's hypocrisy.


Peter Mathews (pdmathews) Remarks on Volume I, Chapters 4-6

Gowar again interweaves her themes with skill in these chapters.

The symbol of the pineapple, for instance, is made to echo across all three chapters: a fruit known for its rarity and exoticism, it is won by Angelica and Bel by a suggestive performance at the confectioner's; this sets up the meaning of the exhibition of the mermaid at the Pineapple coffeehouse.

I also loved the way Gowar emphasizes the difference between the surface of a performance and the final product, especially in how seeing the former changes the latter.

This is emphasized, for instance, at the confectioner's:

"Inside, it is a veritable temple to sugar which betrays nothing of the heat and toil – the boiling and skimming and coaxing and measuring – that must go into its making" (p.47)

These sweets, then, are presented to the world in language that is provocatively sexual:

"The confectioners, although their real talent lies in marrying fruit to alcohol, sugar, cream, are wise enough to present the finest offerings from London’s gardens and hothouses in their most virgin state" (p.48)

Then, in chapter 6, this metaphor of preparation and presentation extends in turn to Angelica:

"‘Out,’ says Mrs Frost to Maria, who retreats at pace. ‘We can save this,’ she continues, and sets about tousling the powder through Angelica’s abused hair with quick deft hands. And she paints her friend’s face, and pins and hooks and stitches her into her layers of petticoats and skirts. She must stoop before the transformed Angelica to secure the jacket of her gaudy striped redingote; she grasps her at the waist and runs pin after pin through the silk and into her stays." (p.56)


message 18: by Lia (new) - added it

Lia Marc wrote: "Apparently, Gowar was inspired by the Fiji mermaid..."

Yikes, Marc, that’s somehow more terrifying than I imagined.

Angelica’s self-exhibition at Mr. Jennings’ box in the theatre, sounds just like [Ch. 7] Mr. Hancock framing the mermaid in a tall glass dome:

“ On Mr Murray’s advice, he procures a tall glass dome, under which they balance the mermaid upright. ‘So as to look its visitors in the eye,’ Murray explains with relish. They set it up on a small table in a room just large enough for visitors to pass all the way about the creature, and satisfy themselves of its authenticity before leaving the way they came in. ‘There need be no more adornment than this,’ says Murray, but even so Mr Hancock commissions a nearby draughtsman to imagine the dramatic moment in which the Japanese fishermen caught the creature in their nets.”


I really like your quote about class as a bubble — made especially impactful through the image of Angelica and the dead mermaid, both taken out of their “habitat” (or social whole) and placed into an isolating bubble, their prior way of existing usurped by the logics of a transactional world.


message 19: by Mark (last edited Apr 11, 2019 05:32AM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Mark | 269 comments Wow. That was a fast read! The setting was a real treat, helped by the language. The living mermaid is a wonderful invention, and her power was properly evoked. John Masefield writes of this in A Mainsail Haul in the story "Sea Superstition": "... the peace in my heart gave way to an eating melancholy, and I felt a sadness, such as has come to me but twice in my life. With the sadness there came a horror of the water and of the skies, till my presence in that ship, under the ghastly corpse-light of the moon, among that sea, was a terror to me past power of words to tell. I went to the ship's rail, and shut my eyes for a moment, and then opened them to look down upon the water rushing past. I had shut my eyes upon the sea, but when I opened them I looked upon the forms of the sea-spirits. The water was indeed there, hurrying aft as the ship cut through; but in the bright foam for far about the ship I saw multitudes of beautiful, inviting faces that had an eagerness and a swiftness in them unlike the speed or the intensity of human beings. " The rest is worth reading too - it's at https://en.wikisource.org/wiki/A_Main...

HOWEVER: I've got three complaints: 1) characters' personalities switch 180 deg at will: chiefly, Angelica spends 1/2 the book being thoroughly portrayed as a thoughtless whore, and transforms into an earnest housewife with the adoption of a mob-cap. 2) Other characters are presented, with a fair amount of detail... and then dropped. 3) The mermaid's container, a "big-bellied rendering vat" from a tryworks, "as tall as Mr. Hancock," is carried, FILLED TO THE BRIM, by 5 men down what were described as stairs that were earlier described as "creeping steeply out of sight." To cap it off, it is emptied, not by merely tipping it, but bucket by bucket.


LindaJ^ (lindajs) | 2299 comments Mark, I agree completely with the first two of your three complaints. I don't share the third, primarily because I was just glad Angela was able to get rid of the miasma of that second mermaid and we could have a "happy ever after" ending.


message 21: by Mark (new) - rated it 3 stars

Mark | 269 comments Linda,

Well, I'll stick with number three. For me, it was a massive unforced error on Gowar's part. As I've written, one of the principal joys of the writing was her detailed evocation of a Georgian world; houses are DARK at night unless intentionally illuminated, and wigs are frequently askew. And then, at the very end, we are treated to a scene where five men carry a three-ton vat down steps that had upset our main character a few chapters before. They might have used a helicopter as believably. With a flip of her (no doubt) neatly trimmed goose quill, she could have described trundling the vat down a maintenance ramp hidden in the bushes. She used a similar explanation for the glowing pool.

I'm sorry, but it leaves a sour memory behind, after all the sweet syllabubs in the beginning.


LindaJ^ (lindajs) | 2299 comments Ahh, now I understand -- 5 men, 3 tons, not possible. While I knew the new mermaid was going to end up there, I had imagined the entity only - not the vat - but I did not pay attention to the weight. And she shouldn't have made such a big deal about the passage to get to the grotto when Hancock first went, if she was then going to have the huge vat taken there. Initially, I though Hancock was going to find the body of the mulatto prostitute who disappeared not just from the party but from the book - complaint #2.

Something that I had a problem reconciling was Mrs. Chappell being invited to that final party and then getting taken apart by the mob before making it because timewise I thought that had happened before Hancock bought the house, as Mrs. Frost alluded to Mrs. Chappell's demise as the reason for her being able to rise to head of the house of prostitution.


message 23: by Mark (new) - rated it 3 stars

Mark | 269 comments Linda,

Yes, the end of Mrs. Chappell was incongruous; I imagined that Mrs. Frost's earlier reference to the older Abbess's troubles meant that Mrs. Frost was planning them for her.

Some support for assertions:

Her wonderful language: (Going to the tryworks)
As he draws closer the air takes on an oily weight, which settles on the clothes and layers the nostrils with a greasy, deep-water scent. And the nearer he comes, the worse the smell becomes, until it blooms into the stench of ghastly decay: the blankets of flesh peeled from whales on the Greenland ice have lain for days and weeks upon the ships that bear them home, reeking and sweating and oozing.

Inexplicable character shifts (Angelica):
Whoredom appeals to Angelica's character in a great host of ways: she likes to live closely with other women and share her secrets with them; she likes to sing and drink and dance; she likes to be cosseted; she likes to be looked at.
What she likes best of all is to be desired.
It tickles her to see men grown stupid when they gaze upon her, aII soft-eyed and slow in the head. In fact it inflames her.

Then:
On the threshold [Sukie] turns and draws breath, but her courage confounds her and she says nothing.
'Sukie,' says Angelica, 'you are wanted here.'
'Not by him.'
'Aye, by Mr Hancock too.'
'He -has you now.'
Angelica feels rather a pang. 'He would be very grieved to hear
you say that.' She reaches out a hand. 'Here, come sit with me. We
shall talk on it.'



LindaJ^ (lindajs) | 2299 comments Yes, you are right about Angelica change. She was very believable in both roles but roles are very different and the pivot was abrupt. The author could have done a better job of making that change of personality more believable.


Peter Mathews (pdmathews) I'm lagging a bit because I have so many other things to do, but when I catch up I will pay attention to these things, Mark. I don't remember them being a problem when I listened to the audiobook the first time around, but of course that is a different experience and it is harder to pay close attention to details.

That said, I did find Angelica's transformation believable on my first reading. It is foreshadowed early on by Bel Fortescue's own about-face on the issue of marriage, and of course Angelica has some disappointments and life lessons along the way that help to change her mind about this life.

Finally, while the impossibly heavy vat is a detail that Gowar gets wrong, I don't see that it impacts much on the themes of the book itself. There is also a mermaid in the vat that radiates waves of sadness - that doesn't seem very realistic either! But the mermaid is crucial because it functions as a crucial symbol in the novel's exploration of enjoyment, and the role that fantasy plays in enjoyment.


message 26: by Mark (new) - rated it 3 stars

Mark | 269 comments Peter,

Angelica certainly has reasons to choose marriage after Dear George! I'm afraid I don't see many presentiments of the maturity she shows after the marriage. Bel doesn't change like that.

I would argue that the mermaid's power is consistent in the Georgian world - look at my Maesfield quote from a few years later. Gowar's  conception of the living mermaid's form is brilliant.

Gowar uses language and detail to build a world that is a treat to visit. That charm of "tourism" is a big part of my enjoyment of any novel.


Kathleen | 254 comments I agree with Mark's comments. Like Linda said, I was just glad they figured out how to get the stuff out of there, even if the whole vat thing was impossible.

But the other two points, the character shifts and the lack of development, those were big problems for me. I think my frustration, each time a character was introduced and then dropped kept me distracted and took me out of the story.

There was so much detail about certain characters at the beginning that went nowhere. Polly for example. After all this build up we get an intriguing interaction in the middle, and then what was that at the end? A hint that she was looked for, not found, and presumed lost? Or did I miss something?

I think what made this so frustrating was that Gowar did such a fantastic job with descriptions. I loved the way she could describe the sounds in the house, the lighting as someone mentioned above, the micro details of movements that were very insightful.


message 28: by Mark (new) - rated it 3 stars

Mark | 269 comments Kathleen,

Yes, Polly, and Bridget, and the cat. Oh well - "Bye bye, time to move on.."


message 29: by Marc (new) - rated it 3 stars

Marc (monkeelino) | 2572 comments Mod
If I'm not mistaken, while it's not very satisfying, Gowar does give us the impression that Polly has found the people Simeon referred her to for help. And she makes an appearance to see the offing of Mrs. Chappell (eerily close to "chattel", no?):
If anybody in the crowd had turned, they might have observed a dusky-skinned girl in a broad straw hat, holding her starched white gown clear of the ground. Mrs. Chappell is alert to the last to a remarkable face or a fine form, but it is this girl's singular poise that now arrests her attention. She moves like a dancer or a duchess, her back quite straight, as if movement were for her a long-studied art, or an expression of intellectual delicacy.



message 30: by Drew (new) - rated it 4 stars

Drew (drewlynn) | 22 comments LindaJ^ wrote: "Yes, you are right about Angelica change. She was very believable in both roles but roles are very different and the pivot was abrupt. The author could have done a better job of making that change ..."

I felt like Angelica was playing the part she felt like she was expected to play and be the kind of wife Mr. Hancock was expecting. They both seemed satisfied at first but came to realize that was not what either of them wanted her to be.


Kathleen | 254 comments Marc wrote: "If I'm not mistaken, while it's not very satisfying, Gowar does give us the impression that Polly has found the people Simeon referred her to for help. And she makes an appearance to see the offing..."

Very helpful quote, Marc--thank you! It didn't sink in when I read it, but I remember it now, and it does make me feel better. :-)


message 32: by Marc (new) - rated it 3 stars

Marc (monkeelino) | 2572 comments Mod
Two topics/themes have stuck in my head long after finishing this book--I'm curious what others thought...

1) The book had a delightfully strong feminist bent to me that I was not expecting. It painstakingly revealed the precarious existence of women and their dependence on men (either through the potential financial security of marriage, if a good one was possible; or, through the short-lived sale of their bodies). As such, I somehow expected it to either transcend these limitations through one of the characters or have something deeper to say about this systemic gender oppression... I'm not sure I felt it did either. And women often played a key role in keeping other women down in this story. Certainly, it seems like Angelica had a more egalitarian relationship with Mr. Hancock than in many marriage of that time, but I'm not sure here own mercenary nature made me believe love conquered all. I guess I'm wondering how other interpreted her situation in the end (a triumph over circumstance, settling for security, something other... )... ?

2) And, mercifully for those who've read thus far, the second issue needs only a much shorter question: How did you read the mermaid? It seemed fairly symbolic in many ways (another female under the power of men; imprisoned and traded upon for its looks). Especially, with the way it was "dispersed" in the end, it felt like the creature took on a greater meaning than that described on the surface.


Peter Mathews (pdmathews) I think you're right to say that the marriage between Angelica and Jonah is initially unsatisfactory. Angelica in particular feels as though she is playing a role for which she is unsuited, despite her best efforts. She loses the child and is unable to socialize with her new social peers.

The release of the mermaid, however, seems to me Gowar's intimation of a new kind of relationship that transcends the mother/whore binary, both of which are predicated on metaphors of entrapment and ownership. Gowar cleverly shows how such entrapment makes everyone - and not just the creature entrapped - miserable.

The scene in which Angelica releases the mermaid is simply brilliant, evoking as it does John William Waterhouse's painting Circe Invidiosa:




Kathleen | 254 comments Peter, your analysis throughout has been very helpful, but I particularly appreciate your last comment. I did feel that Angelica transcended those binary roles at the end. That the dispersion was connected to releasing that entrapment that makes everyone miserable was something I just vaguely felt--it wasn't clear to me. You articulated it brilliantly. Thanks!


Peter Mathews (pdmathews) Thanks Kathleen. I wish I could have contributed more, but this last month has been just insane. I did reread the novel, though, and enjoyed it just as much as the first time through. It has been a good experience to share ideas with everyone on here.


message 36: by Mark (new) - rated it 3 stars

Mark | 269 comments Peter,

Thanks for finding that image! That and the Maesfield story I mentioned provide a satisfying frame for the mermaid's form. I'm afraid I got distracted by the risible physics of the action at that point, but I agree that the image of the mermaid is entirely fitting.


message 37: by Marc (new) - rated it 3 stars

Marc (monkeelino) | 2572 comments Mod
Indeed, thank you for that image and all your contributions, Peter!

The month also ended up pulling me a way from GR, but I gained a lot more from this book thanks to you, Lia, Linda, Drew, Kathleen, and Mark.

It will be interesting to see where Gowar's writing goes next.


Franky | 101 comments I kept up with comments even though I didn't post any here yet. I've been behind a tad with reading this month due to things going on but I'm almost finished (at about page 400) and a feel a bit mixed about the book . I think it is quite whimsical in its prose, but I found some aspects to be a little disappointing (such as characterization). But, I really like the insight Peter. You definitely helped me see this book in a different light.

I'll hopefully finish this weekend and post some final thoughts.


back to top