Fiction, Historical, Magical realism, NetGalley

The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock by Imogen Hermes Gowar Mermaids, Merchants And Courtesans... In A Book

The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock, when you first read its name, conjures up a certain magic, which only intensifies when you look at the cover. Which is why I absolutely did not know what to expect from this book! So let’s see what it’s all about!

It’s the autumn of 1785, England, and we are introduced to quite a few characters. One of them is Mr Hancock, a widower, a lonely merchant. The other is a very wilful courtesan, on the bring of serious trouble. There are more characters, aside from these, but what brings them all together is… well, you could say, a mermaid. The characters’ lives intertwine without much logical reason, much as life normally does, and things go on from there. What will become of the mermaid? Or the merchant? What becomes of the courtesan, on her way to ruin?

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 Hancock now. Never you mind that mermaid. But what could still happen?

85% — err, okay. Well at least the name works out. Kind of wish it didn’t though… #feels

91% — oh… again, did not expect this. Although it’s a nope from me. Y U do dis, characters?? You could just be happy instead, maybe??

100% — right. Alright. I can settle on that.

This book is interesting in the way that you don’t really know whether you should interpret some parts of the story as real, and thus it’s magical realism, or if it’s just intended as a symbol for emotional experiences. Which actually makes it very captivating! It’s both very real and very unreal at the same time, colorfully written and contrasting. I kept wanting to come back to the book even despite the lack of a quick pace or big developments.

As for the plot in The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock – there is one, but it’s definitely not in the foreground, and it doesn’t lead anywhere in particular. In part, it’s situational, in part, it also displays actions and effects of certain situations, or just follows lives. The beautiful writing works well in this situation, as does the historical setting and interesting facts about the time period. The book also has really amazing secondary characters, and you will be just as invested in the developments of their lives as in those of the main characters.

However, if you are looking for fantasy, action or magic, you will not find it in The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock. It is a very slow going book, so if you do not enjoy that kind of reading, this is not for you.

The theme of this book seems to be that sorrow and grief will not disappear if you do not let it go yourself, if you do not release the pain. And even if you think you are undeserving, you can still have happiness. I truly liked this story, and if you love slow-going historical books, then I’m sure you will enjoy this one too.

I thank Random House UK / Vintage Publishing / Harvill Secker for giving me a copy of the book in exchange to my honest opinion. You can buy the book here at Book Depository and buying using this link supports the blog.

Have you read The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock, or heard about it? Do you like slow-going books?

I'm Evelina and I try to blog about books that matter, with a bit of fun there too! Disability and equality will be topics you see a lot, but there's also a lot of scifi, fantasy and... GIFs. I'm also the proud founder of #ARCsAnonymous.

38 thoughts on “The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock by Imogen Hermes Gowar Mermaids, Merchants And Courtesans... In A Book

    1. Hah, yeah, this is NOT a book for you for sure 😀 I don’t know why, but I really liked it though. I like books that are kind of like solid experiences, and you feel like it won’t end so fast. Just kind of like a trip, or a kind of weather that lasts for a week. It’s very hard to explain 😀
      But yeah, I thought it would be a fun way to review it like that xD

    1. Yeah, exactly, it also strikes me like that kind of book, and to be honest, I’m not 100% sure why I loved it. I think it’s probably cause it’s kind of like an ongoing experience 🙂 and I liked the atmosphere. It was slow though!

  1. This one sounds like it is really a magical realism kind of novel, in the way that it can be hard to perceive or entirely figure out what is going on. I kind of have a love hate relationship with magical realism… but I have a head-over-heels in love feeling with mermaids in novels which pulls me toward the novel. I’m kind of mixed on this one… not sure it is one for me. Hmm >.>
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    1. That’s the funny bit, it’s not really all that magical, it’s just… sort of folk-taley? A little different from the typical way magical realism is used in books (I usually don’t dig magical realism either xD) I totally understand the love hate! A lot of times I don’t like it either, but somehow I like, for example, Haruki Murakami’s magical realism. So it’s hard to say when I’ll like it 😀 as for the mermaid… in that regard, you can treat this book as if it didn’t have a mermaid xD it’s really no more than an object. It’s not a character.

  2. The synopsis sounds so intriguing, the idea behind this book is definitely unique. Even though it’s a slow-paced story I still want to read it after your review 🙂

  3. It sounds like one that I’d have to be in just the right mood to appreciate. I think the possibility of magical realism or just magical writing is a big draw.

    Loved your review, Avalinah!

  4. Usually I didn’t like slow going books, and I never heard about this book before, but seems really interesting.
    Love the GIF! XD

    1. I figured you probably don’t like slow books, as I remember your post about audiobooks commented about that particular thing 🙂 for me, I enjoy slow books because if I like it, I don’t want it to end 😀 does that make sense? If a book is slow, I tend to feel like it will go on a long time and I won’t have to say goodbye to it and the characters 🙂

  5. This sure sounds like a very weird little book but as soon as you said “magical realism” I understood why hahaha
    It definitely gives me that vibe but it’s probably not for me as I don’t care much for slow books or ones that leave me completely confused from start to finish xD
    Glad you were able to enjoy it somewhat, and that is had a nice message to it. Great review!
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    1. It IS a somewhat weird book, even thought I couldn’t call it ‘little’ xD hahaha

      Yeah, magical realism is pretty tough for me to stomach (although I love straight up magic, so I don’t know how this works in my head xD), but I do love slow going books (cause then it feels like it will last longer and I don’t have to say bye yet!)

      Thank you 🙂

  6. I’ve never heard of this book before, but man your reading experience sounds soooo mysterious hahah

    Also love the sound of the theme of this book too. I don’t read too many books tagged as magical realism but I’m glad to hear how unique this one was for you. What made you want to pick it up?
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    1. I think you might like this book 🙂 you’ve liked some slow going ones before, I rememeber some reviews of yours.

      Yeah, I actually don’t enjoy magical realism too much, because usually it’s just a deus ex machina kind of thing – just a convenient way for something to work out… or just really cheesy. In this book, it was so different though! Not cutesy or dreamy at all, but almost terrifying. It was pretty good 🙂

      And I don’t know… the blurb was about courtesans and the 18th century (19th? xD I’m already forgetting :D) and those are always things I like reading about 🙂 different lives!

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