EXPECT A STING IN THIS TALE
The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock
Imogen Hermes Gowar Harvill Secker, R290
Late one evening in 1785, merchant Mr Jonah Hancock awakes to a knock on the door. His ship has come in and delivered to him the most peculiar thing — a mermaid! The world’s curiosity in his creature thrusts him away from his modest country living into high-society London where he meets Angelica Neal, a dazzling woman of great beauty and a celebrated whore.
Neither Mr Hancock nor Miss Neal are prepared for the treacherous road that lies ahead, for mermaids are dangerous and mysterious creatures and although they bring good fortune, they exact payment in the harshest of terms.
The characters are splendid and original: there’s tight-lipped Mrs Frost — the keeper of books, secrets and virtue; monstrous Mrs Chappell — an “abbess” who runs a “nunnery” for fallen girls; and, of course, the titular mermaid, who turns the tide of everyone’s fortune one way or another.
The men are vastly outnumbered and outclassed by the women in the story: Angelica charms all who dare to look upon her person; Mr Hancock’s niece Sukie maintains his household and keeps a critical eye on affairs; and Mrs Chappell swirls around with her entourage — Polly, Elinor and young Kitty — through the glamorous underbelly of London.
The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock flashes with crisp language and sparkling wit. Effortless and beguiling; as Angelica glides from parlour to bedchamber and the mermaid glimmers through waves of consciousness, so language weaves through the story like fine thread on an elaborate corset.