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Alternate cover for isbn 9781781255452Set in Victorian London and an Essex village in the 1890's and enlivened by the debates on scientific and medical discovery which defined the era The Essex Serpent has at its heart the story of two extraordinary people who fall for each other but not in the usual wayThey are Cora Seaborne and Will Ransome Cora is a well to do London widow who moves to the Essex parish of Aldwinter and Will is the local vicar They meet as their village is engulfed by rumours that the mythical Essex Serpent once said to roam the marshes claiming human lives has returned Cora a keen amateur naturalist is enthralled convinced the beast may be a real undiscovered species But Will sees his parishioners' agitation as a moral panic a deviation from true faith Although they can agree on absolutely nothing as the seasons turn around them in this uiet corner of England they find themselves inexorably drawn together and torn apartTold with exuisite grace and intelligence this novel is most of all a celebration of love and the many different guises it can take


10 thoughts on “The Essex Serpent

  1. says:

    ‘Sometimes I think I sold my soul so that I could live as I must Oh I don’t mean without morals or conscience—I only mean with freedom to think the thoughts that come to send them where I want them to go not to let them run along tracks someone else set leading only this way or that’ Frowning she ran her thumb along the serpent’s spine and said ‘I’ve never said this before not to anyone though I’ve meant to but yes I’ve sold my soul though I’m afraid it didn’t fetch too high a price I had a faith the sort I think you might be born with but I’ve seen what it does and I traded it in It’s a sort of blindness or a choice to be mad—to turn your back on everything new and wonderful—not to see that there’s no fewer miracles in the microscope than in the gospels’ ‘You think—you really think—that it is one or the other your faith or your reason?’ The Essex Serpent is a magnificent work that uses the form of the Gothic novel to explore real world and very human concerns It may be set in the late 19th century but it resonates with issues just as compelling as those of the 21st Superstition and faith versus science and fact The nature and limits of friendship the moral limits of medicine Sarah Perry has said “What most interests me about the past is not its otherness but its sameness” One manifestation is a concern with the housing horrors of the poor in 19th century London being sueezed by landlords and their residences being replaced by posh lodgings I wanted to portray a late nineteenth century which was in many respects ‘modern’ rather than a sort of Victoriana theme park of pea soupers and smelling salts By the 1890s you could travel by Tube and walk along an Embankment lit by electric lights you could have a tooth pulled under anaesthesia join a union read the Times buy frozen lamb shipped over from New Zealand and so on I suppose the obverse of saying 'they were rather like us' is to say 'and we are rather like them' and I do fear that we are regressing to a decidedly Victorian state when it comes to housing and a tendency to think of those who live in poverty as in some way deserving it due to a lack of virtue rather than mere ill fortune Cora Seaborne lately and happily relieved of her unloving but controlling husband by virtue of a fatal illness is no one’s idea of a damsel in distress uite the opposite She has a passion for learning and exploration 1893 in the final decade of Victoria’s reign was an exciting time The World Columbian Exhibition opened in Chicago Wall Street suffered another stock crash Women voted for the first time in a national election in New Zealand Cora is eager to be a part of this new age of scientific growth Shedding her London home At Euston Suare and Paddington the Underground stations received their passengers who poured in like so much raw material going down to be milled and processed and turned out of molds and indulging her growing interest in paleobiology Cora along with her on the spectrum son Francis and his nanny Cora’s friend Martha heads to Colchester in Essex “They’re finding fossils on the coastCora will be happy as a schoolboy there up to her knees in mud” Strange News out of Essex a woodwork from the 1669 pamphlet It is while on a random explore in the rain and considering her oneness with nature It struck her that everything under that white sky was made of the same substance—not uite animal but not merely earth; where branches had sheared from their trunks they left bright wounds and she would not have been surprised to see severed stumps of oak and elm pulse as she passed Laughing she imagined herself a part of it and leaning against a trunk in earshot of a chattering thrush held up her arm and wondered if she might see vivid green lichen stippling the skin between her fingers that she first meets Pastor Will Ransome It definitely counts as meet cute when they neither knowing who the other is team up to retrieve an animal that had gotten stuck in the considerable mudThe pastor and the naturalist will form a beautiful bond as they engage in a dialectic of faith reason and respectful consideration and sometimes hostile confrontation The core of faith in tension with science is central Rumors of a serpent have been making rounds a return of a creature last reported in the 17th century Many of the locals indulge in superstition as fear spreads Will is determined to put an end to such notions but the naturalist Cora is hoping it might be a remnant of what had been thought a lost species a plesiosaur perhaps bringing to her scientific approach a considerable store of faith in the possible Perry plays these tensions like Itzhak Perlman on a Stradivarius Sarah Perry from The GuardianThe tension between faith and science is far from the only buzzing string here The connection Cora and Will make leads to battles of both the expected and surprising sorts and while the core of their words is beyond reproach their growing affection for each other excitement at intellectual challenge but also excitement at the very presence of the other makes for than a bit of discomfort While Cora is happily widowed Pastor Will remains smitten with his beautiful both in body and spirit wife Stella a star who would sparkle in any firmament Of course lustrous though she may be Stella is not exactly in the best of health Can Cora and Will’s friendship sustain or will it transform into something else? William Ransome and Cora Seaborne stripped of code and convention even of speech stood with her strong hand in his; children of the earth and lost in wonder As for that beastie the notion for the story was a happy accident It was Sarah Perry’s husband who told her on a car journey through Essex having spotted a sign to the village of Henham about the legend of a serpent Perry felt her scalp tighten the better to grasp the idea and keep it safe inside her head – a feeling she has become used to when she thinks of something she knows will make a great book “Immediately I thought if that beast came back in the Victorian era post Darwin when there was a trend for natural history and people were fossil collecting people would have a very different response from those in the 17th century who had seen this beast” from The Guardian interview The structure of the core conflict came to Perry in a flash between myth and superstition and faith and reason and science and all of those clashing over this one potential beast But how best to orchestrate it?The Gothic form offered a welcome approach There are familiar elements sometimes reimagined The typical spooky castle finds an outlet in a natural setting a spot where civilization tapers off and the natural or supernatural? picks up a marshland abutting the Blackwater River near an estuary the fittingly named World’s End Darkness abounds there as do barely visible things and events that offer rich fodder for active imaginations In the darkness he grows afraid There’s something there he feels it biding its time—implacable monstrous born in water always with an eye cocked in his direction An atmosphere of mystery pervades Just what the hell is going on? An ancient and obscure prophecy portends unpleasantness ahead Well folks thereabouts are persuaded that the promise of the serpent’s return was being fulfilled Omens portents visions So many Supernatural or otherwise inexplicable events Yep and some pretty outstanding natural ones as well High even overwrought emotion Fuh shoo uh Science minded free at last widow meets studly passionate intellectually curious cleric And plenty of raised voices beside But the high emotional level also extends to being dazzled by beauty Women in distress Well not the usual sort Stella is particularly unwell but seems less stressed than enthralled by it Cora is a modern woman so no poor weak thing act being performed There is plenty of the vocabulary of the gothic For example chapter one begins One o’clock on a dreary dayThere is also the romantic element in the gothic approach The Will Cora connection has already been mentioned There are a few other connections of this sort that are addressed But the overwhelming connection throughout the book is of friendship even if the lines between where friendship leaves off and another kind of relationship picks up can be a bit murky and even if love is the beating heart of all sorts of friendships What I absolutely didn’t want to do was to write a book about two people who madly fancy each other and at the end of the book they fall in love and they get married That’s so tiresome and life is so much rich and complex and complicated than that I wanted to write about a relationship that is intimate and tender and exciting and even erotic but not a conventional ‘boy meets girl and they’re soulmates and they live happy ever after’ storyPerry aimed to write about as many different kinds of friendship love as I could find Ones which blur the boundaries between romantic love and friendship seeing sexual desire as something cathartic and benevolent even when it’s not connected to any kind of romantic attachment I still maintain that Cora and Will are basically friends but that their friendship is capacious and different and subject to change as human relationships are” from the Waterstones interview There are external elements throughout the book that buttress both nature and the sublime Perry has the eye of a naturalist She makes considerable and stunning use of this talent to breathe life into her landscapes When the rain set in she delved deeper between the trees turning her face to the featureless sky It was a uniform grey without shifting of clouds or sudden blue breaks and no sign at all of the sun it was an unwritten sheet of paper and against it the bare branches were black It ought to have been dreary but Cora saw only beauty—birches unfurled their strips of bark like lengths of white cloths and under her feet wet leaves were slick Everywhere bright moss had taken hold in dense wads of green fur swaddling the trees at their foot and fine pelts on broken branches that lay across the path There are plenty bits of this here Stella adds a particularly ethereal appreciation for the color blue both in its natural state and as manufactured Blue in fact tints the novel for a considerable swath in a way that is both beautiful and alarming Cora’s son Francis has an interest in the natural world as well and offers some insights although he lacks the experience to be able to interpret what he observes There is a rich supply of secondary characters some of whom receive starring role treatment They serve to illuminate issues of the day One is a doctor on the cutting edge of his profession another a memorable local who will mar your dreams with visions of unspeakable fence decorations and resident earwigs Martha’s social activism highlights the housing issues in London but also a sexual freedom that addresses the constraints of Victorian s Perry is not a satirist but she does offer a particularly delicious line from one of her supporting cast someone who dismisses notions of a returned monster I’m uite religious you know no patience for the supernaturalAs for gripes blissfully few The vanishing of one young lass lacked a persuasive rationale I thought There was one scene late in the book that I found a bit off putting but it would be too spoilerish to note it here Neither of these imperiled for me the overall joy I experienced reading this book For me the notion of the bliss of the beautiful that permeates TES can be summed up in a line from Cora ’It was just the light’ she said ‘up to its old tricks But how was my heart to know?’ A wondrous read satisfying to both heart and mind The Essex Serpent is a spectacular achievement a masterpiece by a gifted writer at the peak of her powerReview posted – 32417Publication May 27 2016 – the original hardcover in the UK June 6 2017 – by Custom House in the USA April 24 2018 trade paperNovember 15 2017 The Essex Serpent is named one of the top fifty notable works of fiction of the year by The Washington PostNovember 22 2017 The Essex Serpent is named one of its 100 Notable Books of the year by The New York TimesEXTRA STUFFLinks to the author’s personal and Twitter pages You should know that as of the date of this post her personal site was still under constructionInterviews The Guardian The Essex Serpent author Sarah Perry ‘Kids at school found me strange I didn’t mind’ interview by Emine Saner FiveBookscom Sarah Perry recommends the best Gothic Fiction Interview by Beatrice Wilford December 1 2016 Waterstones The Book Perry Was Meant to Write by Sally Campbell December 10 2016 The Essex Serpent British Library On the trail of the Essex Serpent Perry describes her encounter with the original 1669 pamphlet that inspired the novelThe Gothic Novel A fabulous lesson – This is where I got the list of Gothic novel characteristics I used for that part of the review Elements of the Gothic Novel A wonderful video from Studycom Gothic Novels Characteristics Examples it is limited though One must be a subscriber to see it all Still worth a lookFWIW In classical mythology Cora or Kore was another name of Persephone goddess of fertility and the underworld – from nameberrycom


  2. says:

    ‘’Come tomorrow if you like to the grave I said I’d go alone but perhaps that’s the point; perhaps we are always alone no matter the company we keep’’ This novel is as complex as beautiful and mesmerizing as its cover It is astonishing an exciting majestic literary journey It deserves all the recognition it gets and then some It is plain and simple one of the most beautiful uniue novels I’ve ever read There will be no ‘’but’’ or ‘’or’’ in my review ‘The Essex Serpent’ is perfectionCora Seaborne a highly symbolic surname is a young widow with an interest nay an adoration in science and in the workings of nature She cannot stand anything she considers as superstition but is always keen to learn Prompted by a friendly couple she travels to the parish of Aldwinter to experience the frenzy that has come with the rumors of an appearance by the Essex Serpent a devilish Loch Ness like monster that has returned after almost 200 years Her meeting with Will Ransome the local vicar will bring forth all kinds of debates between them all kinds of contradictions between the world we think we know and the one we aren’t able to seePerry focuses on three issues The contrast between Science and Religion She doesn’t take sides a token of how skillful she is She respects both and lets the reader decide Then we have the Victorians’ obsession with everything that has to do with the supernatural and the occult and the misunderstood position of the women in the society of the era She stresses that not all women were victims of the restrictions and the norms but they had to face disbelief scorn and accusations as the price for their freedom For Cora freedom comes through the death of her husband a man as tyrannical as he was cold whose personality can be traced in Francis Cora’s son who is an intriguing child but highly unlikeable ‘’Girls and boys come out to playThe moon does shine as bright as day’’ The children form a main point of view in the book Joanna Naomi Francis see the world in their own eyes They experience the phenomena in personal ways which couldn’t be different and diverse and the interpretation sets uite a few things in motion The omens in the community are numerous People falling victims of a strange illness young girls experience a fit of unusually lively laughter the moon is full and red the crops are failing the residents sprain their ankles all too easily The children believe in the signs and try to protect the world from changing into something they don't wish to know ‘’Lighten our darkness we beseech thee O Lord; and by thy great mercy defend us from all perils’’ Does the serpent exist? The smell is foul the sounds otherworldly the feeling of uneasiness and restlessness has been plaguing the community Each resident finds the chance to blame everyone else but themselves and stories from the past haven’t been forgotten Perhaps the serpent stands as a symbol for the community’s narrow mindedness and fear of progress Their dusty lives constantly influence the young ones and when Cora or Luke try to put some sense into their heads they’re scorned and attacked These are people who fear darkness but in truth are in love with it They don't want it to go away because it provides them with an excuse to live ‘’We both speak of illuminating the world but we have different sources of light you and I’’ Cora and Will are worlds apart at first glance Cora is the naturalist the science lover the one who looks at nature and sees causes and effects Will sees the divine presence the Hand of God released from medieval superstitions They argue They disagree and grow closer their banter is full of well drawn arguments and sexual tension but they respect each other’s views even if they’re too proud to admit it They are against all prejudices religious and social but deep down they’re helpless They try to shed their skin and come to terms with the other’s reality but this reuires a kind of sacrifice they’re not willing to commit And they’re trapped in a world where the mob cannot be freed by their fears and nightly terrors ‘’There was a crooked man’’ he said ‘’who walked a crooked mile’’ Same thing happens with Luke whose appearance makes people suspicious of his intentions He is a doctor highly skilled highly intelligent whose offers are denied out of terror He speaks outright and faces adversity and hostility from minds that are buried in the mud where the Serpent resides Luke is the most fascinating character along with Cora Will on the other hand wellnot so muchWill is a coward He denies his moments of clarity and is afraid of his feelings Cora makes him a complete rounded character When he’s alone he becomes a shadow and yet he cannot see it or refuse to do so Cora shakes his mundane life but he prefers mediocrity His wife Stella is a pathetic woman A figure created out of boredom docility and piousness in the extreme Martha Cora’s maid is a shrew in heh most negative way possible She’s full of anger for everything and everyone she hates everyone’s existence and believes she has to constantly speak her mind which is usually wrong ad interfere in Cora’s life in a presumptuous rude vulgar manner Stella and Martha reuired a lot of patience from me in order to avoid skipping their pagesI don’t need to stress how exceptional Perry’s writing is Poetic lyrical dark Gothic There is stream of consciousness at times there are diary entries correspondence There are passages with descriptions that seemed to have jumped straight out of a tale by Poe The language may remind you of the Bronte sisters There are bloody images with a Viking blood eagle reference and there is also a hymn to the beauty of the foreboding nature Rooks and ruins waves and the moon The dialogue is perfection the moments when Perry describes the actions and the state of mind of our main characters simultaneously contain some of the most exuisite pieces of writing I’ve recently found in a novel and I have found a plethora It gives an atmosphere of darkness an eerie feeling that something is about to happen One of our characters will cross a personal limit or a new wound will occur Who knowsPerry definitely knows how to create anticipation and this is one of the most important aspects in Gothic Fiction particularly The Author’s Notes contain a ton of fascinating suggestive reads and they are jewels in themselvesFor me this book is as close to perfect as it can get Let yourself wonder in a dark coastal town and look the serpent in the eyeMy reviews can also be found on


  3. says:

    Late Victorian England Cora Seaborne newly widowed by a sadistic but wealthy husband and now free to follow her interests in palaeontology finds herself in the Essex village of Aldwinter where rumours of a sea serpent lurking in the always conveniently foggy bay have the locals in a superstitious tizz There she meets local vicar Will Ransome and the two form an instant rapport despite their supposedly opposing views — and despite the fact that the vicar already has a wife and children But then Will’s wife coughs and instantly if you've ever seen any costume drama ever you know what’s going to happen to herI have to say that for me The Essex Serpent never really came alive as a novel It had potentially interesting characters but they were never uite convincing Perhaps because they were all too nice to one another Will's wife was way too understanding and the few tensions between them seemed like a failed attempt to liven things up rather than a genuine outgrowth of the characters themselves In her Author’s Note at the end of the book Sarah Perry mentions Matthew Sweet’s Inventing the Victorians for its challenge to the notion of ‘a prudish era enslaved by religion and incomprehensible manners’ but I suspect it’s that version of the Victorian Age readers want from a Victorian era novel so any author wanting to counter that view of the age really has to do a bit of extra work As a result Perry’s Victorian age doesn’t uite convince — everyone was far too nice and understanding instead of being gossipy a married vicar carrying on with a widow disapproving and censorious Why else set the book in the Victorian Age at all? Just for the costumes?That wouldn’t have mattered had the book had a compelling plot or if it had explored any one of its incipient themes in detail I was expecting about the clash between superstition and rationality which was surely what was promised by the meeting of scientific Cora was she going to be the Serpent in this Essex Eden? and religious Will but Will simply wasn’t religious enough most of the time Or even had there been a genuine lingering air of weirdness or mystery about the 'serpent' So for me the book never really turned into a novel but just remained a collection of characters bumping into one another In costume


  4. says:

    Click here to watch a video review of this book on my channel From Beginning to BookendAfter the death of her husband the intelligent young widow Cora Seaborne abandons her society life in London and departs for coastal Essex accompanied by her neurotic eleven year old son and his nanny Cora's plans to recuperate are derailed when she learns of a rumor about a mythical serpent taking the lives of villagers further up the estuary Feeding her interest in natural history she journeys to learn about the serpent and makes the acuaintance of William Ransome the stalwart priest of Aldwinter Though Cora believes the snake is real William does not and has no patience for what he deems godless superstition but they are nonetheless drawn together in an inescapable attraction of opposites He surveyed John's drawing and this time took it for a winged sea dragon approaching the village Since the discovery on New Year's morning of a drowned man down on the Blackwater marshes naked his head turned almost 180 degrees a look of dread in his wide open eyes the Essex Serpent had ceased to be merely a device to keep children in check and had begun to stalk the streets The greatest uality of The Essex Serpent is Cora Seaborne an unorthodox woman who is perfectly comfortable breaking with convention Her self confidence progressive attitude and scientific mind make her an attractive and eccentric protagonist 'I've freed myself from the obligation to try and be beautiful' said Cora 'And I was never happy I can't remember when I last looked in the mirror ' Little Gothic flourishes in the narrative make for a delectable treat Romance and death are prevalent but the book falls short in terms of atmosphere In rare moments where an eerie mood is evoked it works to rouse the appetite but fails to fully sate one's hunger for a haunting tale Earlier that day she'd explained to him whispering in cold corners that something was rotten in the village of Aldwinter There was the drowned man for one thing and the sickness at Feetlewell and the way they all woke from dreams of wet black wings They stood between the ribs of a clipper which had pitched up there a decade ago and never shifted from the shore In the harshness of the weather it had worn down to little than a dozen black curved posts that looked so much like the opened chest cavity of a drowned beast that visitors took to calling it Leviathan In addition to its Gothic vibe the book undoubtedly reads like a classic with its formal language suitable to the time in which the story takes place late nineteenth century England lingering standards of Victorian morality and men taking special care to be mindful of antiuated notions such as feminine sensibilities 'I daresay you've heard tell of the Essex Serpent which once was the terror of Henman and Wormingford and has been seen again?' Delighted Cora said that she had not 'Ah' said Taylor growing mournful 'I wonder if I ought not to trouble you what with ladies being of a fragile disposition' For all its strengths The Essex Serpent suffers a deficit when it comes to story Multiple subplots some of them duplicates make for an overlong and convoluted narrative One story line in particular crackles with potential but remains untapped view spoilerJoanna Naomi and the suggestion of witchcraft which was one of the few moments in the book of great intrigue but amounted to absolutely nothing hide spoiler


  5. says:

    45 This exuisite work of historical fiction explores the gaps – narrower than one might think – between science and superstition and between friendship and romantic love The Essex Serpent was a real life legend from the latter half of the seventeenth century but Perry’s second novel has fear of the sea creature re infecting Aldwinter her invented Essex village in the 1890s Mysterious deaths and disappearances are automatically attributed to the Serpent that dwells in the depths of the Blackwater This atmosphere of paranoia triggers some schoolgirls to erupt in frenzied delusions as in The Crucible It is unclear whether the Church should tolerate a source of mystery or dismiss it all as nonsense – after all there’s a winged serpent carved onto one of the pews at the parish churchIn a domestic counterpart to all these supernatural goings on we gain entry into two middle class households Cora Seaborne’s abusive husband Michael has recently died of throat cancer leaving her to raise their odd autistic I wondered? eleven year old son Francis on her own She has an amateur interest in fossils to rival Mary Anning’s so when she hears of a cache near Colchester she leaves London for Essex bringing along Frankie and her companion Martha Mutual friends put her in touch with Will Ransome the vicar of Aldwinter sure that he and his family – consumptive wife Stella and children Joanna James and John – will be able to show her around the coastDespite an inauspicious first meeting which sees Cora and Will still unknown to each other hauling a drowning sheep out of a lake theirs soon becomes a close easy friendship Cora feels she can speak her mind about the faith she lost and the new marvels she finds in natureI had faith the sort I think you might be born with but I’ve seen what it does and I traded it in It’s a sort of blindness or a choice to be mad – to turn your back on everything new and wonderful – not to see that there’s no fewer miracles in the microscope than in the gospelsShe holds her own in cerebral debates with Will as he deplores his parishioners’ fantasies about the Serpent Is there really such a big difference between his faith – “all strangeness and mystery – all blood and brimstone” Cora teases – and the Serpent legend? In seeming contradiction to his career path Will is suspicious than many of the other characters of things he doesn’t understand and can’t explain away like hypnosis and a Fata MorganaThe novel’s nuanced treatment of faith and doubt is enhanced by references to Victorian science including fossil hunting and early medical procedures Dr Luke Garrett Michael’s surgeon is one of Cora’s best friends back in London; she calls him “The Imp” In one of the most striking passages of the entire book he performs rudimentary heart surgery on the young victim of a stab wound Perry fills in the novel’s background with a plethora of apt Victorian themes including housing reform and London crime For a book of 440 pages it has a large cast and a fairly epic scope Although there are places where subplots and minor characters might have been expanded upon Perry wisely refrains from stuffing the novel with evidence of her research Indeed it’s a restrained book overall yet breaks out into effusiveness in just the right places as in Stella’s mystical adoration of the color blueDescriptive passages and the letters passing between the characters give a clear sense of the months passing yet there is also something timelessly English about the narrative – Dickensian in places Our Mutual Friend and Hardyesue in others Far from the Madding Crowd I especially loved this picture of the June countrysideEssex has her bride’s gown on there’s cow parsley frothing by the road and daisies on the common and the hawthorn’s dressed in white; wheat and barley fatten in the fields and bindweed decks the hedgesCross this cozy pastoral vision with the Gothic nature of the Serpent craze and you get uite a uniue atmosphere The vague unexplained sense of menace didn’t work for me at all in Perry’s previous novel After Me Comes the Flood but here it’s just rightIt was no doubt true in the late Victorian period that “men and women can’t be friends because the sex part always gets in the way” as famously declared in When Harry Met Sally No one is uite sure what to make of a sexually available self assured female like Cora The different kinds of Greek love from philia to eros keep shading into each other here Like the water that forms the book’s metaphorical substrate the relationships ebb and flow Yet there’s no denigrating any connection as just friendship; in fact friendship is enough to rescue one character from suicide Like Hanya Yanagihara’s A Little Life the novel asks whether love is ever enough to save us – and gives a considerably optimistic answerThe fact that I have an MA in Victorian literature means I’m drawn to Victorian set novels but also highly critical about their authenticity While reading this though I thoroughly believed that I was in 1890 Moreover Perry adroitly illuminates the situation of the independent “New Woman” and the uandary of science versus religion which were the joint subjects of my dissertation women’s faith and doubt narratives in Victorian fictionI’m delighted especially having seen Perry speak at Bloxham Festival in February see my write up for on her background and the inspirations behind this novel to have liked The Essex Serpent three times as much as her debut It has an elegant evocative writing style reminiscent of AS Byatt and Penelope Fitzgerald Something holds me back from the full 5 stars – too diffuse? Too much staying on the surface of things? Not uite intimate enough especially about Cora’s inner life? – but I still declare myself mightily impressed The Essex Serpent counts as one of my favorite novels of 2016 so far You can see why Serpent’s Tail how perfect is her publisher’s name? rushed this one into publication a few weeks early Expect to see it on the Booker Prize shortlist and any other award list you care to mention With thanks to Anna Marie Fitzgerald at Serpent’s Tail for the free review copyOriginally published with images on my blog Bookish Beck


  6. says:

    We are cleaved together we are cleaved apart everything that draws me to you is everything that drives me away How I loved holding this book in my hands with the gorgeous William Morris cover and the soft uneven deckle edged pages While perusing this lovely volume I revelled in the gothic atmosphere I looked forward to the intimate letters and notes sprinkled throughout the narrative I was intrigued by the mystery of the serpent the palpable fear of those in the damp mossy seaside village of Aldwinter Not to mention the writing oh the writingAnd I loved the characters All of them from the hunched brilliant surgeon Luke Garrett to the enlightened and captivating star fairy Stella Ransome I even felt for the plight of the miserable knife wielding attacker Samuel Hall The humanity of each character shone throughI didn't want to put the book down but now that I have finished it so uickly I am a little remorseful it is over and I am yanked out of this alluring world This world in which the natural and spiritual battle against each other uselessly Where love whether unreuited divisive undefined or wrong remains nonetheless a jewel that cannot be ignored or apologised for In this world women are beautiful and wise or they cast away their beauty and refused to be defined that way or they have important things to do in their lives than chase beauty and its rewards In this world there is a Victorian consumptive a legend of Loch Ness proportions that sends children into terrifying hysterics and a dark and impoverished London in the backdrop But am I really that far from the world Sarah Perry created? It's true that people in this story gaze at sea treasures and wildflowers instead of their smartphones Other than that she created a truly accessible tale with themes and situations that are modern than one might have imagined in this gothic Victorian book that boasts the spectres of Stoker Shelley Collins and DickensFear is the serpent that slithers throughout this book's pages Fear of a monster yes But also all the secret fears that lie in our hearts The serpent mirrors our innate terror of death of what slinks damply hidden in the fog It mimics a phallic shape in matters of passion and its frightening conseuences It's the awful suspicion that one is alone and unseen leaving no prints and with nothing tethering one to the surface of the earth It is fear of our spiritual path or lack of oneThis book does not provide answers just a platform for the human heart cleaved and oh it is such a beautiful thing to behold


  7. says:

    Well this will certainly teach me about that old adage re books and covers I really love a Victorian floral in the William Morris mode and buttercup yellow endpapers charming In my mind this was going to be a gothic tale of serpents and maybe some Victorian sexual repression something along those lines Certainly serpents were mentioned people seemed flustered about it but the entire thing lacked any kind of narrative tension or gothic edge unless you count the odd fog Then there was the love uadrilateral I really stopped counting how many people were in love with Cora not by all accounts a great beauty or from what I could see particularly engaging So this epidemic of lovelorn people seemed puzzling to me Passions when they did very briefly arise were kind of neutered and odd This is certainly not a Victorian romance novel thenOne could read it for passing social commentary on the dire state of housing in Bethnal Green or perhaps for an interesting account of medical procedures of the era My point being this seemed like a novel struggling to figure out what it wanted to be There was some very picturesue writing on landscapes and scents and sounds but this only takes a novel so far I somehow missed something in this book that resonated with other readers perhaps one needed to fall in love with Cora as well In my opinion if you need to read a contemporary Victorian novel it has to be Faber's Crimson Petal and the White


  8. says:

    What a surprisingly charming bookNominated for both The Women’s Prize and The Costa Book Award The Essex Serpent is a beautifully written book Set in 1893 Essex England we meet Cora Seaborne recently and happily widowed and William Ransome the town vicor who is dealing with rumors and superstition of a returning mythical Essex Serpent Cora an amateur naturalist develops such an interesting friendship with William Ransome At odds with each other and always with opposing views science vs religion they entertain us with their sharp dialogue Their repertoire is fascinating and at times uite hilariousSarah Penny’s book has everything to offer from a well thought out plot excellent character development and humorous dialogueHighly recommend45 out of 5 stars


  9. says:

    The pendulum swings from one year to the next and there’s darkness on the face of the deepThe year is 1893 and something evil is lurking in the Blackwater Estuary in Essex England Nearly two hundred years prior a hideous winged serpent was said to rise from the waters and walk the woods and the commons terrorizing the villagers As uickly as it had appeared it once again disappeared and was no longer to be seen until now The inhabitants of Aldwinter and the surrounding villages are once again caught up in a hysteria that seizes them by day and haunts them by night If you think this brief description marks this as a gripping horror novel perfect for the month of October I’d have to say it depends The terror lies in the anticipation much as it does for the main characters as well as the masses of the townspeople The point is not what I see but what I feel; I cannot see the ether yet I feel it enter and depart and depend upon it I feel that something is coming; sooner or later my words be marked I was not frightened by The Essex Serpent but I was thoroughly absorbed by it This is a story about the thought provoking ideas the masterful characterizations and the striking settings The ideas may not be new but they are woven so intelligently throughout the plot that I couldn’t help but reflect on them from a different angle perhaps Faith and superstition versus science and reason – these themes could never be exhausted entirely and the interest lies in refreshingly original ways of presenting them to an audience I felt that Sarah Perry did just that She offers a well balanced view of both sides of the euation and it is up to us as discerning readers to come to a conclusion if any Cora Seaborne recently widowed from a troubled marriage is a naturalist She worships the famed fossil hunter and paleontologist Mary Anning of Lyme Regis Now free of the bonds of wedlock Cora strikes out with son Francis likely autistic and companion Martha a socialist to Essex in order to dig in the dirt and perhaps unravel this mystery of the serpent Cora is a heroine that I could wholly admire Sometimes I think I sold my soul so that I could live as I must Oh I don’t mean without morals or conscience – I only mean with freedom to think the thoughts that come to send them where I want them to go not to let them run along tracks someone else set leading only this way or that When she comes up against the likes of Will Ransome an improbable friendship as well as an intellectually rewarding rivalry ensues Will is the resident vicar of Aldwinter who of late has had to deal with the challenges of a parish that has opened itself up to the perils of superstition There was a feeling – mostly unspoken at least in his presence – that they were all under judgment doubtless well deserved from which only he could deliver them; but what comfort could he offer which would not also affirm their sudden fear? There seems to be a spark between these two but Will is happily married to Stella described as a fairylike little woman of ethereal ualities with a grim diagnosis of tuberculosis Cora is too recently liberated from the authority of a man and besides has the devotion of another man Dr Luke Garrett There could not be anything between these two other than friendship right? So they deny to themselves and one another any sort of attraction We both speak of illuminating the world but we have different sources of light you and IWhat shined most in this novel in my opinion were the vivid characters and the stimulating dialogue There are a number of players to keep track of here but each is so well fleshed out that it never became at all confusing A list of names is not provided nor is it needed The conversations between Cora and Will are riveting and so smart I don’t have time to mention everyone here but it would be an extreme oversight on my part if I did not acknowledge Dr Luke Garrett as well as his wealthy friend George Spencer Dr Garrett is a bit of a revolutionary so to speak in the medical world He is forward thinking but nearing the end of the Victorian era the public were still resistant to many of the new practices For that matter the medical community itself was not entirely accepting of his innovative ideas I regarded Luke Garrett uite highly and he very well may have been my favorite character The relationship between Luke and George is another facet of friendship that the author very sympathetically illustrates for us In fact one could say that besides the thesis of faith versus science friendship and love are further themes illuminated uite brilliantly within this novel I recommend The Essex Serpent to fans of historical fiction or anyone interested in the debate between faith and science Sarah Perry’s writing is rather addictive and I am uite keen to check out Melmoth due for release shortly For further reading on the topic I also recommend Tracy Chevalier’s Remarkable Creatures which I found to be a truly excellent piece of historical fiction I’ve always said there are no mysteries only things we don’t yet know; but lately I’ve thought not even knowledge takes all strangeness from the world


  10. says:

    I was wavering between a one and a two star rating but my disappointment landed on a one I hoped and was led to expect that this would be a tale of Victorian cryptozoology That there would be an independent and interesting woman recently widowed Cora hunting for a creature while being hampered by the local pastor Turns out the serpent barely features I didn't feel I got to know Cora and I didn't particularly like any of the cast This was of a love triangle than anything else although the purpose of the book still eludes me Long winded and boring not recommended