In 1780s London, a prosperous merchant finds his quiet life upended when he unexpectedly receives a most unusual creature—and meets a most extraordinary woman—in this much-lauded, atmospheric debut that examines our capacity for wonder, obsession, and desire with all the magnetism, originality, and literary magic of The Essex Serpent.
“Splendid…. One of the delights of this knowingly preposterous story is the dialectic it constructs between the real and the fantastic…. Each quality… infects the other: The real world of 18th-century London seems both lavish and perishable, and the fantastic world of mermaids feels deadly real.”—New York Times Book Review
One September evening in 1785, just beyond the docks of London, Jonah Hancock hears an urgent knocking on his front door. The captain of one of Jonah’s trading vessels is waiting eagerly on the front step, bearing shocking news. On a voyage to the Far East, he sold Jonah’s ship for something rare and far more precious: a mermaid. Jonah is stunned—the object the captain presents him is brown, wizened, and as small as an infant, with vicious teeth and claws, and a torso that ends in the tail of a fish. It is also dead.
As gossip spreads through the docks, coffee shops, parlors, and brothels, all of London is curious to see the marvel in Jonah’s possession. Thrust from his ordinary existence, somber Jonah finds himself moving from the city’s seedy underbelly to the finest drawing rooms of high society. At an opulent party, he makes the acquaintance of the coquettish Angelica Neal, the most desirable woman he has ever laid eyes on—and a shrewd courtesan of great accomplishment. This meeting sparks a liaison that steers both their lives onto a perilous new course—for priceless things often come at the greatest cost.
The Mermaid and Mrs. Hancock
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