My final review for The Sunday Times / Peters Fraser + Dunlop Young Writer Of The Year Award, in association with The University of Warwick, shortlist, is for The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock by Imogen Hermes Gowar
Imogen Hermes Gowar studied Archaeology, Anthropology and Art History before going on to work in museums. She began to write small pieces of fiction inspired by the artefacts she worked with. In 2013 won the Malcolm Bradbury Memorial Scholarship to study for an MA in Creative Writing. She won the Curtis Brown Prize for her dissertation, which grew into this novel. She lives, works, and walks around south-east London – an area whose history she takes a keen interest in.
Jonah Hancock hears frantic knocking on his from door one September evening. On opening it he finds Captain Jones, one of the captains of his merchant ships eagerly waiting to see him. He lets him in and then hears the news that he has bought. It is not good; he has sold Hancock’s entire ship for what he has been told is a mermaid. Stunned at first, Hancock is lost for words, but Jones persuades him that this will make his fortune, provided he stirs interest in it.
Turns out that lots of people have heard of this marvel and are desperate to see it. The showing is a success and he is being courted by the great and the good as he rises into the echelons of high society. Mrs Chappell, the sharp-eyed businesswoman sees an opportunity to make money from this wonder and offers to rent it from him for a staggering sum of money. He attends the first event, naïvely thinking that the owner of a bordello might not have an event that descends into a romp; but he was wrong. His chaperone for the evening, Angelica Neal, is one of the most beautiful women he has ever seen, but even her charms cannot keep him there so he leaves the party early.
He is approached with an offer for the mermaid and manages to negotiate a very high price for it; financially he is made for life. He is still seeing Angelica, and she requests that she would love him to acquire another mermaid for her, something that he would have considered almost impossible, but one has been found before.
Historical melodrama in not really my thing, but the advantage of reading a shortlist is that it opens your eyes to books that you wouldn’t have considered before. Gowar’s book is well researched and her attention to detail for the period is spot on. Even though it is almost 500 pages long, it didn’t read like a long novel. The prose is flowery and elaborate but suits the time period that it is written in well. It has a strong moral tale and about obsession, oppression and tragedy. It was a book that I liked but didn’t love it as these are not completely my thing.
There are lots of things happening online concerning the award if you want to follow it.
The website is here: http://www.youngwriteraward.com
The Young Writers Twitter Account is here: https://twitter.com/YoungWriterYear
You can find them on Facebook here: https://www.facebook.com/YoungWriterAward/
Or follow the hashtag:
My fellow shadow panel members are also all online:
Amanda Chatterton – Bookish Chat – https://bookishchat.wordpress.com
Susan Osborne – A Life In Books – https://alifeinbooks.co.uk/
Lucy Pearson – The Lit Edit – https://thelitedit.com
Lizzi Risch – These Little Words https://theselittlewords.com/about/
Or follow the hashtag: #youngwriterawardshadow