The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock is the debut novel from Imogen Hermes Gower. It’s a historical fiction set in 18th century England. I’m usually not a big fan of historical fiction, but it’s a genre I’ve begun experimenting with more and more, and I have to admit that Imogen Hermes Gower makes her reader feel fully immersed in the world she has created. You really feel like you are experiencing everything she wants you to feel.
The thing that is most striking about this novel is its beauty – and this is almost entirely due to the language used. I absolutely cannot fault Gower’s use of language. It’s descriptive and emotive in all the right places and the vocabulary is incredible – I’ve never looked up the definition to so many words since I finished the Reading Rainbow in primary school! This book is filled with beautiful examples of amazing language.
The descriptions in this novel are outstanding, they really help make the scenes come alive, especially with the senses of smell and taste!
However, it’s not all roses for The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock, there are some genuine issues that I had. The first is that there were some serious pacing issues. This book is nearly 500 pages long, and when there are slow parts it can be really daunting knowing there are hundreds of pages to go, and to not know if it will pick up soon.
“He only mourns their child, who passed so swiftly from birth to death, exchanging one oblivion for another like a sleeper rolling over.”
There were also several plots going on and I had trouble figuring out which was the main one. Jonah and his family, Angelica and her beau, Mrs Chapel and her whores, Polly (my favourite character) and her quest for independence and the mermaid hunt – all of these plots were given almost the same amount of page time (with the exception of Polly) and it all got a bit much at times. I appreciate that sub-plots can make a story better, but in this case it just got a bit jumbled.
The thing about the sub/main plots above is that some plots needed more and some plots needed less in places. For example, I think the book could have benefited massively from having more focus on Polly and her plight and less of the business side of Jonah’s plot – it was utterly dull.
It’s such a shame because an interesting story fell flat in places, and some of this was due the characters. For as real as the settings felt, the characters felt half-real at times. Some of the characters simply weren’t likable when I think the intention was that they should have been. The prime example of this is Angelica. In my eyes, Angelica couldn’t redeem herself. All the way through the book I saw her primarily as a selfish, spoiled character with only hints of genuine congeniality. I wasn’t attached to any of the characters and many simply weren’t redeemed by the end of book.
“Such is the drug which, dewed on the eyelids, makes yesterday inconsequential, and tomorrow certain, and today golden.”
I also think that the blurb and the title are quite mis-leading. They almost promise a whimsical, fantastical story with mermaids. The reality is that this book is not a fantasy story. Do not pick this book up if you’re after fantasy because you won’t get it. There’s barely any fantasy in this and where there is it’s only in the last 5% of the story.
I mentioned earlier that this story is nearly 500 pages, and it does feel a little too long. There’s very few major plot points to justify the length of the book and I honestly feel that 200 pages could have been cut and the book would have benefited.
For all it’s flaws, the book is really well researched and it is enjoyable, despite its length, and it has an absolutely gorgeous cover.
All in all, this is an excellent debut and I’m really excited to see what Imogen Hermes Gower does next.
“I expect nothing. I expected a dead one.”
Is historical fiction your thing? You can get The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock here and experience the mermaid for yourself!
[PLEASE NOTE]: I was not paid or sponsored to write this review – all the opinions are honest and my own.