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Alternate cover for isbn Set in Victorian London and an Essex village in thes, 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 quiet corner of England, they find themselves inexorably drawn together and torn apartTold with exquisite 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. Will Byrnes Will Byrnes 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 pr 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 squeezed by landlords, and their residences being replaced byposh 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 Quite 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 Square 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 EssexThey re finding fossils on the coast Cora will be happy as a schoolboy there, up to her knees in mudStrange 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 quite 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 mud.The 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 forthan 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 flashbetween 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 anatural 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 directionAn 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 day There 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 muchrich 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 story.Perry 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 plentybits 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 quite religious, you know no patience for the supernatural.As 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 power.Review posted 3 24 17Publication 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 Times EXTRA 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 construction.Interviews The Guardian The Essex Serpent author Sarah Perry Kids at school found me strange I didn t mind interview by Emine Saner FiveBooks.com 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 Study.com Gothic Novels Characteristics Examples it is limited, though One must be a subscriber to see it all Still, worth a look.FWIW In classical mythology, Cora or Kore was another name of Persephone, goddess of fertility and the underworld from nameberry.com


  2. Amalia Gavea Amalia Gavea 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, unique novels I ve ever read There will be no but or or in my review The Essex Serpent is perfeCome 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, unique novels I ve ever read There will be no but or or in my review The Essex Serpent is perfection Cora 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 see.Perry 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 unlikeableGirls 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 bedifferent and diverse and the interpretation sets quite 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 knowLighten 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 liveWe 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 requires 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 terrorsThere 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 much Will 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 required a lot of patience from me in order to avoid skipping their pages I 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 exquisite 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 themselves.For 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. Murray Ewing Murray Ewing 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 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 her.I 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 quite 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 quite 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 indetail I was expectingabout 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. Hannah Greendale Hannah Greendale says:

    Click here to watch a video review of this book on my channel, From Beginning to Bookend.After 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 le Click here to watch a video review of this book on my channel, From Beginning to Bookend.After 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 learnabout the serpent and makes the acquaintance 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 quality 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 protagonistI ve freed myself from the obligation to try and be beautiful, said Cora And I was neverhappy I can t remember when I last looked in the mirrorLittle 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 littlethan 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 antiquated notions such as feminine sensibilitiesI 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 dispositionFor 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 spoiler Joanna, 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 Readers who enter The Essex Serpent anticipating a harrowing read about a terrifying creature will be sorely disappointed Instead, anticipate lovely writing, a capable female protagonist, redundant love stories, subplots that reach fairly satisfying conclusions, and a generous amount of fog in lieu of a well developed Gothic atmosphere The remains of the clipper, known as Leviathan, where villagers loiter is reminiscent of the novelette The Deluge at Norderney from Isak Dinesen s Seven Gothic Tales, which opens with the following passage Ladies and gentlemen of fashion abandoned the shade of their parks to come and walk upon the bleak shores and watch untameable waves The neighborhood of a shipwreck, where, in low tide, the wreck was still in sight, like a hardened, black, and salted skeleton, became a favorite picnic place, where fair artists put up their easels.


  5. Rebecca Rebecca says:

    4.5 This exquisite 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 B 4.5 This exquisite 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 church.In 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 coast.Despite 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 nature I 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 gospels She 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 issuspicious than many of the other characters of things he doesn t understand and can t explain away, like hypnosis and a Fata Morgana.The 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 blue.Descriptive 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 Hardyesque in others Far from the Madding Crowd I especially loved this picture of the June countryside Essex 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 hedges.Cross this cozy pastoral vision with the Gothic nature of the Serpent craze and you get quite a unique 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 right.It 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 quite 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 considerablyoptimistic answer.The 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 quandary of science versus religion which were the joint subjects of my dissertation women s faith and doubt narratives in Victorian fiction.I m delighted, especially having seen Perry speak at Bloxham Festival in February see my write up foron 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 A.S Byatt and Penelope Fitzgerald Something holds me back from the full 5 stars too diffuse Too much staying on the surface of things Not quite 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 copy.Originally published with images on my blog, Bookish Beck


  6. Robin Robin 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, seasiWe 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 writing And, 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 through.I didn t want to put the book down, but now that I have finished it so quickly 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 unrequited, 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 haveimportant 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 aremodern than one might have imagined, in this gothic, Victorian book that boasts the spectres of Stoker, Shelley, Collins and Dickens.Fear 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 consequences 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 one.This book does not provide answers, just a platform for the human heart cleaved and oh, it is such a beautiful thing to behold


  7. Paula Paula says:

    What a surprisingly charming book Nominated 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 What a surprisingly charming book Nominated 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 quite hilarious.Sarah Penny s book has everything to offer from a well thought out plot, excellent character development, and humorous dialogue.Highly recommend.4.5 out of 5 stars


  8. Trudie Trudie 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 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 quadrilateral, 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 then.One 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 picturesque 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


  9. Candi Candi says:

    The pendulum swings from one year to the next, and there s darkness on the face of the deep The 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 quickly 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 areThe pendulum swings from one year to the next, and there s darkness on the face of the deep The 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 quickly 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 townspeopleThe 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 markedI was not frightened by The Essex Serpent, but I was thoroughly absorbed by it This is a storyabout 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 equation 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 admireSometimes 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 thatWhen 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 superstitionThere 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 fearThere seems to be a spark between these two, but Will is happily married to Stella, described as a fairylike little woman of ethereal qualities 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 anythingbetween these two other than friendship, right So they deny to themselves and one another any sort of attractionWe both speak of illuminating the world, but we have different sources of light, you and I What 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 quite 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 quite 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 quite 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 fictionI 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. Katie Katie says:

    You might say The Essex Serpent is about the strivings and fears of the child within When we re children we have no problem whatsoever believing that a huge winged beast might live in the dark waters behind the marshlands if that s what we re told and what legend believes And as children we re always struggling to forge a bond with some companion we single out as being a kind of annunciation angel Everyone in this novel possesses a restless heart Everyone has a deep sea monster lurking benea You might say The Essex Serpent is about the strivings and fears of the child within When we re children we have no problem whatsoever believing that a huge winged beast might live in the dark waters behind the marshlands if that s what we re told and what legend believes And as children we re always struggling to forge a bond with some companion we single out as being a kind of annunciation angel Everyone in this novel possesses a restless heart Everyone has a deep sea monster lurking beneath the surface of their thoughts The underlying premise of the novel is a conflict at the heart of the Victorian age science vs superstition, free thinking vs prudishness An Essex village is in uproar after some mysterious deaths of both animals and a man on the shores of the Blackwaters Clearly the sea serpent, last seen in 1669, has returned The village begins to wonder what it has done wrong to bring back the serpent The two central characters and the novel s thematic opponents, Will the parish rector and the recently widowed, scientifically motivated Cora meet in the mud at the water s edge Virtually no character in this novel has their amorous feeling returned Whether they are adults or children Everyone is returned continually to imagination by obstacles And too much imagination promotes hysteria, especially in the very young Perry does a fabulous job not only of dramatizing the sea serpent as metaphor of sexual desire but also of sustaining the possibility of the monster actually appearing throughout the novel We tend to view the Victorians in much the same way we view our own parents they reprudish than we are,set in their ways, less adventurous Sarah Perry debunks this idea Her Victorians are no less imaginative, sexually bold, open to new ideas than we are the implication being that we are no less prone to superstition, nighttime terrors and blind prejudice than they were So though this is set in Victorian England it has an exuberant playful contemporary quality to it At the end of the day it doesn t perhaps have any deep philosophical messages about life But the quality and imaginative vitality of writing has that gift of making you see the familiar in an altered and illuminating light I loved the vitality and mischief and haunting, loveable, modernised Dickensian characters and would definitely recommend it to all and sundry