Tag Archives: Georgian London

#Bookreview ‘The Confessions of Frannie Langton’ by Sara Collins #historical

Sara CollinsThe Confessions of Frannie Langton by Sara Collins tells the story of a Jamaican woman enslaved as a child, exploited by two men and subsequently accused of murder in Georgian London. I am left with the feeling that this debut, though full of lush description and a distinctive heroine, is an ambitious story that would benefit from being given some air to breathe.

Frances Langton, house-slave at Paradise, a Jamaica sugar cane plantation. Frances Langton, housemaid in the home of a London scholar. Frances Langton, the mulatto murderess. Which is the real Frannie? A woman born into slavery in Jamaica then transported to London and gifted to another master, in each place she is studied and manipulated by two men who cannot agree on the pigment of negro skin, the intellectual capacity of blacks and whether they can be educated. There are hints about things that happened to Frannie in her past, things that she did to others – leading I think to the description of the book as ‘gothic’ – some of which are explained by the end, some of which remained vague to me.

This is Frannie’s story, told in her voice, written as she waits in gaol for her trial and written for her lawyer. But we never actually meet this lawyer, he remains a cardboard cut-out so Frannie’s version of the truth remains unverified.We read the sworn testaments of witnesses at her trial, are they the truth or spoken with prejudice and ulterior motives? The book is really two stories – Frannie’s exploitation at Paradise by two men who fancy themselves scientists, and her London lesbian love affair and the murder – that don’t fit together convincingly.

The best thing for me about the book is the character of Frannie, unlike anything I have read recently. The depth of research is evident in the detail but the pacing is unpredictable – Frannie’s voice in the beginning is spellbinding but the middle section is soggy – and I’m intrigued by the scientific exploration of racism. I wanted less of the laudanum addiction and romance between Frannie and her mistress and longed for the trial to be used as the spine on which to hang Frannie’s slave story. A slow read, but definitely an author to watch.

If you like this, try:-
The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock’ by Imogen Hermes Gowar
The Convenient Marriage’ by Georgette Heyer
The Cursed Wife’ by Pamela Hartshorne

And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet:
THE CONFESSIONS OF FRANNIE LANGTON by Sara Collins @mrsjaneymac #books https://wp.me/p5gEM4-3Us via @SandraDanby

Book review: The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock

Imogen Hermes GowarQuite a few things in The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock by Imogen Hermes Gowar are not as they seem. The mermaid, which may or not be real, is actually dead and quite gruesome. And the story starts with shipping merchant Mr Hancock, not Mrs. He is a widower.

This story about London in 1785 is a full-on feast for the senses and at first is a bit overwhelming: wind ‘sings’, raindrops ‘burst’, skin is ‘scuffed and stained’, a face is ‘meaty’. But then I fell into the life of Jonah Hancock and wondered when the mermaid, and Mrs Hancock, would appear. Soon the captain of the Calliope, one of Jonah’s ships, returns homes without the ship but with a mermaid.

The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock overflows with contrasts: Deptford and Mary-le-Bone are villages outside London, whales are dismembered and rendered beside the river but in nearby Blackheath the air is to be treasured. It seems unlikely that the path of Jonah, conservative, hard-working, will intersect with Angelica Neal, a former upper class prostitute. But thanks to the mermaid, they meet and their lives take different turns as a result. Gowar juxtaposes sumptuous silks, satins and pearls of the girls at Mrs Chappell’s high-class brothel, where they are tutored at some expense in dancing and singing, performing masques for their high-paying clientele; with the potatoes peeled and stockings darned by Jonah’s niece Sukie and maid Bridget. The beauty of the whores, the ugliness of the mummified mermaid. Contrasts are everywhere.

The story is slow to build and I admit to skipping some paragraphs of description, many dedicated to situations and characters with no bearing on the main storyline. But then I would stop and admire a sentence like this, ‘Overnight, Deptford’s heady miasma had begun to settle, like silt in a puddle, but sunrise stirs it back up again and Mr Hancock stumps through that great rich stink of baking bread and rotten mud and old blood and fresh-sawn wood with the cat trotting on her tiptoes beside him.’ Over-stuffed with imagery, but beautifully written. I enjoyed the final third but was left regretting threads and characters left dangling that could have enriched the story; Tysoe Jones and Polly particularly.

This is a bawdy morality tale set in Georgian London that issues the warning to be careful what you wish for and compares inner and outer beauty, man’s treatment of women and the exploitation of a mermaid for money. The story is predictable, given the tradition of mermaids, and because of this the pacing would benefit from more audacious plot twists and turns. I liked Jonah and wanted to shout to him, ‘have nothing to do with her’. He is simply too nice.

If you like this, try:-
‘The Quick’ by Lauren Owen
‘An Appetite for Violets’ by Martine Bailey
‘The Wicked Cometh’ by Laura Carlin

‘The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock’ by Imogen Hermes Gowar [UK: Harvill Secker]

And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet:
THE MERMAID AND MRS HANCOCK by @girlhermes #bookreview https://wp.me/p5gEM4-3lK via@SandraDanby