The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock
The idea for The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock came to me when I was working at the British Museum: in fact when I was standing in front of the museum's very own 'Feejee mermaid', a wizened little horror the size of a newborn baby. This was the sort of specimen an eighteenth-century collector might expect to receive, I thought. What if, instead, he was brought a real mermaid?
The idea stayed with me but it took me years to submit the final manuscript to agents (I chose Karolina Sutton at Curtis Brown), and not long after that it was sold in a 10-way auction. It's been translated into ten languages and enjoyed critical success all over the world. It is a winner of the Betty Trask award, a finalist for the Deborah Rogers Foundation Prize and the MsLexia First Novel Prize, shortlisted for the Women's Prize for Fiction, the National Book Awards and the Sunday Times Young Writer of the Year Award, and longlisted for the Desmond Eliot Prize and the HWA Debut Crown.
If you'd like to know more about The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock you might enjoy this selection of reviews and articles:
"The effect is that each quality, the real and the fantastic, infects the other: The real world of 18th-century London seems both lavish and perishable, and the fantastic world of mermaids feels deadly real, especially when the live mermaid pollutes everyone in her vicinity with anxiety and melancholy [...] In other words, Gowar, as an ingenious artificer herself, locates her most authentic reality in artifice and art."
"The author swims like a fish in Georgian cant and vocabulary. [...] There is much to chew on here, and much to savour, presented with wit and showmanship. Would that showmanship were a gender-neutral word, though, because all the elan of this book is female, from the madams running their girls, to the book’s most obvious literary forebear, Angela Carter’s Nights at the Circus. Imogen Hermes Gowar delights in the feminine fakery of mermaids, but as a writer she is the real deal."
This is historical fiction at its finest, combining myth and legend with the brutal realities of the past, chief among them the mistreatment of women and black people and the inequality that existed among the classes. Comparisons will be drawn to the works of contemporary authors Sarah Waters and Michael Faber, particularly Faber’s The Crimson Petal and the White, which charts similar terrain, but The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock has more in common with the novels of Dickens and Austen.
The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock at Dr Johnson's House: