Alice O’Keeffe, Books Editor at The Bookseller, said: “Our shortlists this year took the judges from Georgian London to the Second World War to contemporary New York. There are books from exciting fresh voices at the very start of their career, contrasted with books from with well-established brand authors at the top of their game. These are the books that sum up 2018 but which, we think, will be read for years to come.”
Hermes Gowar tells her tale of mismatched lovers with great panache and energy, yet the plot does not always seem entirely under control. The result is an extremely enjoyable novel that does not quite meet the expectations aroused by the fuss surrounding it
Jonah Hancock is a widower and an unassuming merchant. He lives a quiet life until one of his ships returns with an unlikely cargo — a mermaid. The strange creature causes a sensation in London; Hancock becomes wealthy and starts to mix in fashionable circles. This brings him into the orbit of the brilliant courtesan, Angelica Neal. This unlikely pair begin a relationship, but will it be ill-starred? A dizzyingly good debut that brings raffish, skittish Georgian London alive.
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.