The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock - Book Review



The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock by
Reviewed by on

The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock is Hermes Gowar's debut novel, an exquisite, slow-burning story of historical romance set in the late 18th century. Don't be deceived by the title: this is not steeped in magical realism as you may imagine (this theme comes into play very late in the novel, and is executed with deliberate care). Instead, The Mermaid follows the changing lives of characters linked by circumstance and encounters, with the main focus falling upon a defiant courtesan and a widowed merchant, with the legendary titled creature forming the crux of the bond which forms between them.

This novel has been highly publicised here in the UK, and has been marketed in the same manner as The Miniaturist and The Essex Serpent. With good reason, I might add. Readers who enjoyed those novels would be well advised to pick this up! I was lucky to secure myself a copy of Waterstones' special hardback edition - signed by the author herself! - which featured blue edged covers and a slightly different sleeve design. It truly is a thing of beauty.

Like The Essex Serpent, this was a slow-burner for me, at least until the final few chapters, when the creeping dread and impending crisis which had built in preceding chapters urged me to reach the conclusion. It is a novel to be enjoyed slowly, allowing time to become immersed in the language and setting; to be transported to bygone times where we may catch a glimmer of life less discussed in history books or portrayed on the big screen. Should Ms. Hermes-Gowar's debut become a well-funded BBC serial adaptation (as it surely should!), it would certainly be aired after the watershed, since there are many elements which are absolutely unsuitable for the eyes of children!

Despite historical fiction falling foul of my usual choice of genre, I did enjoy The Mermaid. It took me a while to read, since I felt unable to dip in and out of chapters as time permitted: instead I felt compelled to settle and savour in longer (albeit, more sporadic) sessions. I particularly adore the exquisite presentation of this book, and should publishers read my humble reviews, please please release more books that look and feel as wonderful as this one!


Rating: 4 out of 5
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