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A spellbinding story of curiosity, love and obsession from an astonishing new talent.

This voyage is special. It will change everything…

One September evening in 1785, the merchant Jonah Hancock hears urgent knocking on his front door. One of his captains is waiting eagerly on the step. He has sold Jonah’s ship for what appears to be a mermaid.

As gossip spreads through the docks, coffee shops, parlours and brothels, everyone wants to see Mr Hancock’s marvel. Its arrival spins him out of his ordinary existence and through the doors of high society. At an opulent party, he makes the acquaintance of Angelica Neal, the most desirable woman he has ever laid eyes on… and a courtesan of great accomplishment. This meeting will steer both their lives onto a dangerous new course, on which they will learn that priceless things come at the greatest cost.

Where will their ambitions lead? And will they be able to escape the destructive power mermaids are said to possess?

In this spell-binding story of curiosity and obsession, Imogen Hermes Gowar has created an unforgettable jewel of a novel, filled to the brim with intelligence, heart and wit.

Reviews

The richness and rhythm of the writing is irresistible.

Emma Healey

A story of curiosity and obsession, this is full of rich detail and is a book to get lost in

Stylist

A cracking historical novel – with a twinge of the surreal – about passion and obsession, dreams and reality... The story is by turns intriguing, touching, funny, sad and heartwarming. It will make you laugh and it may make you cry. Mostly, though, the cast of endlessly engaging characters will keep you running the pages until you get to the wholly satisfying ending... The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock is superb.

The Times

A wonderful read

Nina Stibbe

From the first page of this dazzling debut novel, you are pitched into a sumptuously detailed adventure set in the bustle and swagger of 18th century London… The result is a wonderfully written and richly descriptive novel, its brilliantly drawn characters driven by heady and dangerous desires.*****

Sunday Express

Beautifully written...As seductive as any siren's song, this remarkable, glittering Georgian tale has a heart of purest gold.

Essie Fox

Historical fiction at its finest… Early as it is in the year to be predicting Booker nominations, if debuts feature as prominently as they did on last year’s longlist, this will surely merit consideration.

Irish Times

Good god, it is a wonderful book

Louise O'Neill

The bustling, bawdy world of 18th-century London [is] expertly evoked in Imogen Hermes Gowar’s The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock. This is undoubtedly the start of a major career for this young writer.

Vogue

Gowar has crafted a dazzlingly original novel, full of heady pleasures and shot through with the kind of irreverent humour you might expect to find in Georgian London.

Evening Standard

Absolutely delightful... I read it greedily, savouring the characters’ adventures and their wit, resilience and humanity as they contend with the glittering, filthy, dangerous city that was Georgian London. The novel is a well-researched, charming, immensely entertaining read

Maria McCann

Hotly anticipated... a bold, sumptuous doorstopper... Gowar has created a dazzlingly original novel, full of heady pleasures and shot through with the kind of irreverent humour you might expect to find in Georgian London. She’s succeeded in creating a fully-realised world that you want to get lost in. But what’s most refreshing is that she gives all the best lines to women.

Evening Standard

An epic and intricately researched historical novel evokes 1780s London – an era of spectacle, Soho courtesans, lavish parties and dark secrets.

Marta Bausells, Elle

Exquisitely written, flawlessly imagined, The Mermaid & Mrs Hancock's siren song - of courtesans and merchants, shipwrecks and wonders, love and grief, ambition and passion - will echo like the ocean in a seashell long after the last page is turned.

Katy Darby, author of The Whores' Asylum

Beautifully written… By turns bawdy, witty and moving this is a glorious romp through Georgian London, in “the age of unlikely ascents”. With a truly gorgeous package á la The Essex Serpent, it deserves to be huge

Alice O'Keeffe, Bookseller

It’s now the fate of new historical novels to be hyped as ‘the next Essex Serpent’ … The good news is that Imogen Hermes Gowar’s sparkling debut more than merits the comparison... Pure storytelling pleasure.

Metro

Delightful… A gloriously immersive read, bringing Georgian London vividly to life… The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock impresses with Gowar’s attention to vivid and sensual detail

Alice O'Keeffe, Bookseller

Roll up, roll up, a true wonder is on display: a mermaid magicked out of words. The author of this debut set in Georgian London gulled me, by the zest of her writing and sustained authorial slight of hand, into forgetting for a second that they do not exist... Imogen Hermes Gowar delights in the feminine fakery of mermaids, but as a writer she is the real deal.

Hermione Eyre, author of Viper Wine, Guardian

This story really is spellbinding, an unforgettable jewel of a novel, filled to the brim with intelligence, heart and wit.

Vintage Life Magazine

Beautifully written, sinuous, enchanting, brilliantly researched, The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock goes deep into the eighteenth century - its grand front rooms, the secret places, the streets and the ocean that changed everything about Britain and it lays bare the hearts of a cast of unforgettable characters

Kate Williams, author of The Edge of the Fall

Its energy, characterisation and great sense of period completely seduced me.

Fanny Blake, Woman & Home

A brilliantly plotted story of mermaids, madams and intrigue in 1780s London and I wouldn’t be surprised to see it become the Essex Serpent of 2018.

The Pool

An utterly absorbing read.

Jennifer McShane, Image

2018’s most hyped literary debut… [Imogen Hermes Gowar is a] soon-to-be literary star.

Sunday Times

A wonderful romp through Georgian London.

Rachel Revesv, Independent

A gorgeously immersive novel.

Sarah Manning, Red

Like the recent historical-fiction hits Franics Spufford’s Golden Hill, Sarah Perry’s The Essex Serpent and Jessie Burton’s The Miniaturist, this is a novel pungent in historical detail

Sunday Times

A fabulous new author... A wonderfully atmospheric historical novel which is vivid and rich enough in its depiction of 18th century London. Posing questions of social mobility, the status of women and the role of family, this is a debut novel in which you can get lost.

Ben East, The National

This ambitious debut has many virtues: the writing is rich, opulent, at times witty, and Gowar captures the decadent, febrile atmosphere of late-18th-century London in impressive detail.

Simon Humphreys, The Mail on Sunday

The most buzzed-about book of 2018 so far is also the most magical… the definition of ‘must-read’

Sunday Telegraph Stella Magazines

It feels like 2018 has more than its share of debut novels to get excited about. The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock by Imogen Hermes Gowar nails the 18th century as convincingly as Francis Spufford in Golden Hill, but with supernatural elements that bring to mind Susannah Clarke and Sarah Perry.’

Alex Preston, Observer Best Fiction 2018

Big, big things are predicted for this debut. Set in 1785, merchant Jonah Hancock finds himself in possession of a mermaid (“More of a sea-goblin, aint it?”) and is invited by an ageing courtesan to pool their resources and turn it into a society showstopper which just happens to take place in her “high-society parlour” where he meets the wonderful Angelica. Rich in detail and utterly charming, it’s the natural successor to The Essex Serpent and The Miniaturist.

Emerald Street

A deliciously salty slab of historical fiction… The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock crests a new wave of historical fiction that brings the complex lives of historical women out of the shadows.

Daily Telegraph

Beautiful courtesans, destructive mermaids, mercenary madams, raucous sailors; there's little Imogen Hermes Gowar doesn't throw at her extraordinary debut novel. And thanks to her deft, skilfully weaved plot and gorgeous writing, it all comes together beautifully.

iBooks 2018 Hotlist

Immerse yourself in Georgian London... beautiful storytelling with a hint of magic.

Good Housekeeping

A gloriously assured debut, set in a beautifully drawn London… A story of obsession and destruction, hope and heart, which beguiles as much as the mermaid herself.

Red Magazine

Stunning.

Louise Rhind-Tutt, iNews

I was captivated by this beautiful book until the last perfect sentence

Antonia Senior, The Times

A marvellous, high-energy, inventive romp through Georgian society. Rich in delicious period detail and written with a wickedly observant eye, the path of this unlikely romance leads down some unexpected byways to give a fantastic and thoroughly enjoyable reading treat.

Fanny Blake, Daily Mail

In 2018 [mermaids] are back in vogue.

Observer

A terrific debut

Press Association, Books to look out for 2018

The Mermaid And Mrs Hancock is the rare book that actually lives up to its hype and I’d be surprised if it wasn’t this year’s The Essex Serpent. Lush, vivid descriptions of 1780s Soho, proto-feminism, sparkly dialogue and a pleasingly irreverent style, it’s historical fiction even for people who don’t like historical fiction.

Anna James, The Pool

A tale of love, family and social status movingly told.

Sue Price, Saga Magazine

An absorbing tale of curiosity and obsession… Gowar’s prose is marvellous… There’s a beautiful balance of rhythm and intrigue, and an eye for what brings a book alive.

Galen O'Hanlon, The Skinny

The most anticipated novel of the year.

Eastern Daily Press

An accomplished, captivating debut novel.

Charlotte Heathcote, Daily Express

Lush, vivid descriptions of 1780s Soho, proto-feminism, sparkly dialogue and a pleasingly irreverent style.

Anna James, The Pool

Prose that’s as effervescent as it is intelligent.

Lucy Brooks, CultureWhisper

Gowar’s prose shimmers.

Benjamin Evans, The Observer

- The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock is a roistering, swaggering, bawdy novel… [a] confident and accomplished debut

The Times

Rich and humorous, it’s a heady period whirl with a magic realist twist.

Marianka Swain, Move to Town & Country

A highly impressing debut… An absorbing tale of sex, money, ambition and the lure of the new.

Nick Rennison, BBC History Magazine

Gowar’s wonderful novel expertly captures that sense of a more fluid society… An engrossing and well-paced novel, shot through with melancholy, yet filled with wonder and desire. The sort of book you lose yourself in for days.

Sarah Hughes

Imogen Hermes Gowar’s bawdy, picturesque romp through the heady miasma of Georgian London is easily one of the most wonderfully immersive, richly drawn books I’ve read in years… This piece of historical fiction is really something special… Some truly exquisite writing.

Lizzie Pook, Stylist

Wonderful… completely transporting

Madeline Miller

All-consuming and spellbinding.

Time Out

[A] gripping debut… independence, love, class, death and gender stereotypes — are skilfully explored here through a late 18th-century lens

Precious Adesina, Financial Times

Gowar's writing is energetic, and she has wonderful attention both to physical and emotional detail and to the circumstances that constrain lives

Optima Magazine

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Formats & editions

  • Trade Paperback

    9781911215738

    January 29, 2018

    Harvill Secker

    RRP $32.99

    Online retailers

    • Abbey's Bookshop
    • Amazon
    • Angus & Robertson Bookworld
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    • Boomerang Books
    • Collins Booksellers
    • Dymocks
    • Books Kinokuniya
    • The Nile
    • QBD
    • Readings
    • Robinsons Bookshop
    Or

    Find your local bookstore at booksellers.org.au

Extract

ONE

September 1785

Jonah Hancock’s counting-house is built wedge-shaped and coffered like a ship’s cabin, whitewashed walls and black skirting, beam pegged snugly to beam. The wind sings down Union Street, raindrops burst against the windowpane, and Mr Hancock leans forward on his elbows, cradling his brow in his hands. Rasping his fingers over his scalp, he discovers a crest of coarse hair the barber has missed, and idles over it with mild curiosity but no irritation. In private, Mr Hancock is not much concerned with his appearance; in society, he wears a wig.

He is a portly gentleman of forty-five, dressed in worsted and fustian and linen, honest familiar textures to match his threadbare scalp, the silverish fuzz of his jowls, the scuffed and stained skin of his fingertips. He is not a handsome man, nor ever was one (and as he perches on his stool his great belly and skinny legs give him the look of a rat up a post), but his meaty face is amiable, and his small eyes with their pale lashes are clear and trusting. He is a man well designed for his station in the world: a merchant son of a merchant’s son – a son of Deptford – whose place is not to express surprise or delight at the rare things that pass through his rough hands, but only to assess their worth, scratch down their names and numbers, and send them on to the bright and exuberant city across the river. The ships he sends out into the world – the Eagle, the Calliope, the Lorenzo – cross and re-cross the globe, but Jonah Hancock himself, the stillest of men, falls asleep each night in the room in which he first drew breath.

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