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The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry
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The Essex Serpent (2016)

by Sarah Perry

Other authors: See the other authors section.

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
1,8821306,111 (3.69)222
"Costa Book Award Finalist and the Waterstones (UK) Book of the Year 2016." "I loved this book. At once numinous, intimate and wise, The Essex Serpent is a marvelous novel about the workings of life, love and belief, about science and religion, secrets, mysteries, and the complicated and unexpected shifts of the human heart--and it contains some of the most beautiful evocations of place and landscape I've ever read. It is so good its pages seem lit from within. As soon as I'd finished it I started reading it again."--Helen MacDonald, author of H is for Hawk. An exquisitely talented young British author makes her American debut with this rapturously acclaimed historical novel, set in late nineteenth-century England, about an intellectually minded young widow, a pious vicar, and a rumored mythical serpent that explores questions about science and religion, skepticism, and faith, independence and love. When Cora Seaborne's brilliant, domineering husband dies, she steps into her new life as a widow with as much relief as sadness: her marriage was not a happy one. Wed at nineteen, this woman of exceptional intelligence and curiosity was ill-suited for the role of society wife. Seeking refuge in fresh air and open space in the wake of the funeral, Cora leaves London for a visit to coastal Essex, accompanied by her inquisitive and obsessive eleven-year old son, Francis, and the boy's nanny, Martha, her fiercely protective friend. While admiring the sites, Cora learns of an intriguing rumor that has arisen further up the estuary, of a fearsome creature said to roam the marshes claiming human lives. After nearly 300 years, the mythical Essex Serpent is said to have returned, taking the life of a young man on New Year's Eve. A keen amateur naturalist with no patience for religion or superstition, Cora is immediately enthralled, and certain that what the local people think is a magical sea beast may be a previously undiscovered species. Eager to investigate, she is introduced to local vicar William Ransome. Will, too, is suspicious of the rumors. But unlike Cora, this man of faith is convinced the rumors are caused by moral panic, a flight from true belief. These seeming opposites who agree on nothing soon find themselves inexorably drawn together and torn apart--an intense relationship that will change both of their lives in ways entirely unexpected. Hailed by Sarah Waters as "a work of great intelligence and charm, by a hugely talented author," The Essex Serpent is "irresistible. you can feel the influences of Mary Shelley, Bram Stoker, Wilkie Collins, Charles Dickens, and Hilary Mantel channeled by Perry in some sort of Victorian seance. This is the best new novel I've read in years" (Daily Telegraph, London)"--… (more)
  1. 10
    The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert (ddelmoni)
  2. 10
    The Sunlight Pilgrims by Jenni Fagan (wandering_star)
  3. 00
    The Clocks in This House All Tell Different Times by Xan Brooks (wandering_star)
    wandering_star: Something about the writing style of The Clocks In This House... really reminded me of The Essex Serpent, but I couldn't quite put my finger on it. Then I saw a tweet from Sarah Perry saying how much she enjoyed The Clocks In This House... - so there must have been something to it!… (more)
  4. 00
    Remarkable Creatures by Tracy Chevalier (ddelmoni, KayCliff)
  5. 00
    The Odd Women by George Gissing (potenza)
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» See also 222 mentions

English (125)  Dutch (1)  Spanish (1)  Latvian (1)  German (1)  Italian (1)  Swedish (1)  All languages (131)
Showing 1-5 of 125 (next | show all)
This book reminded me somewhat of Beth Underdown's [b:The Witchfinder's Sister|31377300|The Witchfinder's Sister|Beth Underdown|https://images.gr-assets.com/books/1474735894s/31377300.jpg|52068096] insfar as it showed a lot of stylistic potential but never really delivering on either plot or character.

My suspicion is that Perry has yet to find her true voice as a novelist (this is her second novel), and unfortunately, because this book was a bestseller, that now seems unlikely to happen. People tend to stick with what is successful.

I had a number of problems with this book. The plot was banal, as many other negative reviews have pointed out. The characters were not particularly memorable or likable, with Perry largely playing it very safe in this area. The religion v. science was truly sophomoric.

What really irked me about this book was the way in which it uses the historical setting of Victorian England to make the story and characters seem safe and unthreatening. This strategy is the very opposite of what the best neo-Victorian fiction does - just look at Michael Faber's [b:The Crimson Petal and the White|40200|The Crimson Petal and the White|Michel Faber|https://images.gr-assets.com/books/1408937589s/40200.jpg|1210026] or Sarah Waters's [b:Tipping the Velvet|25104465|Tipping the Velvet|Sarah Waters|https://images.gr-assets.com/books/1425892206s/25104465.jpg|1013794] to get an idea of how well this can be done.

My advice is, if you want to read a far superior version of what Perry was trying to do, put down The Essex Serpent and go and read John Fowles's [b:The French Lieutenant's Woman|56034|The French Lieutenant's Woman|John Fowles|https://images.gr-assets.com/books/1466630905s/56034.jpg|1816464] right now. ( )
  vernaye | May 23, 2020 |
It was atmospheric. There were plenty of interesting details and subtleties, and I liked the short chapter size and various letters allowing for different layers of artifice and meaning. I liked the premise. I liked Cora and understood the way she related to people.

It didn't enchant me the way "The Children's Book" (which I thought similar) did. I kept reading, and I did enjoy it, but I just wanted it to be something that it wasn't - more horrifying, or more historically interesting, or more interesting characters. I don't know exactly, but it fell slightly flat for me.

It's probably a solid 3 stars because I enjoyed reading it at the time, though wasn't desperate to finish it, and probably won't read it again. I have quite mixed feelings on it. It didn't help that I was quite sick when I read it, so mostly using it to distract from pain. ( )
  RFellows | Apr 29, 2020 |
A page-turner of a novel with many different themes, I nevertheless came away disappointed at the end. All the story lines are neatly tided up and all ends more or less happily ever after. There is some strong characterization, especially the women, Cora, Martha, and Stella fighting against the plague of the time - tuberculosis, all of it taking place in a Victorian background of slums in London, breakthroughs in surgery, reason and evolution versus sin and fear of God and wrath in the form of the mysterious serpent. The book suits the Coronavirus pandemic, the serpent as the virus, Stella as its lingering victim and doctors desperately trying to find a breakthrough in heart surgery rather than finding a vaccine. Or is the vaccine the resilience of the characters? ( )
  jon1lambert | Apr 26, 2020 |
*3.5

( )
  Fortunesdearest | Apr 10, 2020 |
Recently widowed from an unpleasant husband, Cora Seaborne has moved from London to the Essex parish of Aldwinter with her son and friend Martha. It is a time of exciting scientific change and discovery as people realise that fossils pose as many questions as they answer. Women have started to play a limited role in the discovery of these almost supernatural creatures finding the bones scattered below cliffs as they erode. Her arrival in the wilds of Essex happens around the time that a folktale has come back to life and the village and people of the Blackwater estuary are living in fear of the Essex serpent once again.

The fear is brought to life with the discovery of a drowned man, naked with his head rotated almost 180 degrees and a look of terror in his eyes. One man who sees the parish crumbling in their faith is the vicar, Will Ransome, they start to resort to pagan superstitions and pure cold fear of what may lurk in the waters. Cora arriving in his parish adds to his challenges as she declares that science offers as many explanations as religion does to their present threat. Their relationship sparks fierce debate and unspoken attraction, but Cora has another that is besotted by her, Luke Garrett, a surgeon of some note, who affection is not returned. Will they be able to understand what lurks in the Blackwater, and will they resolve the relationship to something more amiable?

Perry has set the story in a time where society is undergoing huge social changes and scientific understanding is growing and challenging the status quo of the state. There is a lot to like about this, the story is richly imagined, full of detail and with a gothic sub note all the way through, the strained relationship between Cora and William adds greatly to the story too. However, I did feel that there were too many characters in the story as it flipped back and forward between London and Essex. The plot had a little too much going on as well, but the various sub plots did add the necessary depth. Glad I have read it and would suit those that like Victorian dramas. ( )
1 vote PDCRead | Apr 6, 2020 |
Showing 1-5 of 125 (next | show all)
Volatility infects the politics of the novel: the narrative, moving restlessly between the city and the marshes, concerns itself increasingly with “the problem of London”, the relationship between governance, business and poverty summed up in slum renting, slum life – the endless, insoluble matter of how privilege can be persuaded to act outside its own interests, or even see beyond its own limits. In the tenement dwellers of Bethnal Green, Charles Ambrose – otherwise, we are led to believe, a decent man – sees “not equals separated from him only by luck and circumstance, but creatures born ill-equipped to survive the evolutionary race”. From this distance it seems impossible to give him the benefit of the doubt. Perry extends her considerable generosity not just to her characters but to the whole late Victorian period, with its fears for the present and curious faith in the future;
added by KayCliff | editGuardian, John Harrison (Jun 16, 2016)
 

» Add other authors

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Perry, Sarahprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Bonné, EvaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Brovelli, ChiaraTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Dyer, PeterCover designersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Fagel, RolandTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Gerson, NatashaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
McMahon, JuanitaNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Morris, WilliamCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Epigraph
If you press me to say why I loved him, I can say no more than because he was he, and I was I.

Michel de Montaigne, On Friendship
Dedication
For Stephen Crowe
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A young man walks down by the banks of the Blackwater under the full cold moon.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Book description
An exquisitely talented young British author makes her American debut with this rapturously acclaimed historical novel, set in late nineteenth-century England, about an intellectually minded young widow, a pious vicar, and a rumored mythical serpent that explores questions about science and religion, skepticism, and faith, independence and love.

When Cora Seaborne’s brilliant, domineering husband dies, she steps into her new life as a widow with as much relief as sadness: her marriage was not a happy one. Wed at nineteen, this woman of exceptional intelligence and curiosity was ill-suited for the role of society wife. Seeking refuge in fresh air and open space in the wake of the funeral, Cora leaves London for a visit to coastal Essex, accompanied by her inquisitive and obsessive eleven-year old son, Francis, and the boy’s nanny, Martha, her fiercely protective friend.

While admiring the sites, Cora learns of an intriguing rumor that has arisen further up the estuary, of a fearsome creature said to roam the marshes claiming human lives. After nearly 300 years, the mythical Essex Serpent is said to have returned, taking the life of a young man on New Year’s Eve. A keen amateur naturalist with no patience for religion or superstition, Cora is immediately enthralled, and certain that what the local people think is a magical sea beast may be a previously undiscovered species. Eager to investigate, she is introduced to local vicar William Ransome. Will, too, is suspicious of the rumors. But unlike Cora, this man of faith is convinced the rumors are caused by moral panic, a flight from true belief.

These seeming opposites who agree on nothing soon find themselves inexorably drawn together and torn apart—an intense relationship that will change both of their lives in ways entirely unexpected. [retrieved 8/30/17 from Amazon.com]
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