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The Essex Serpent (2016)

by Sarah Perry

Other authors: See the other authors section.

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
2,7751624,401 (3.66)259
Set 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 way. They 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 apart. Told with exquisite grace and intelligence, this novel is most of all a celebration of love, and the many different guises it can take.… (more)
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    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)
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Showing 1-5 of 156 (next | show all)
The Short of It:

Not exactly what I expected but entertaining nonetheless.

The Rest of It:

London, 1893. 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 an unhappy one, and she never suited the role of society wife. Seeking refuge in fresh air and open space, she leaves the metropolis for coastal Essex, accompanied by her inquisitive and obsessive eleven-year-old son, Francis, and the boy’s nanny, Martha, her fiercely protective friend. ~ Indiebound

What makes this story interesting is that it also includes a mythical creature, the Essex serpent. After years of rumors, a man shows up dead and once again the town is convinced that the serpent is back to its tricks.

As you’re reading though, whether or not this creature actually exists is left up to the reader. Does the creature represent something or more specifically, someone in the story? I found this story to be very readable and read it in one afternoon but I found the characters to be unremarkable. We picked it for book club and there wasn’t that much to discuss but some of the members have seen the series adaptation and so had some good comparisons to share.

Have you read it? I think I expected it to be more adventurous.

For more reviews, visit my blog: Book Chatter. ( )
  tibobi | Dec 2, 2022 |
Historical fiction set England in the late 19th century, this novel is centered around a recently-widowed young woman, Cora, who has temporarily relocated from London to a small town in the country. Due to unexplained deaths and sicknesses, the townspeople have revived a 17th century legend involving the Essex Serpent. The local rector attempts to combat their superstitious inclinations. Other important characters include Cora’s eccentric young son, her companion and son’s former nanny, the vicar’s wife and children, a childless couple, the doctor for Cora’s deceased husband, and the doctor's colleague.

I had mixed feelings about this book. I found it less a mystery than an exploration of the complexities of interpersonal relationships. The characters are interesting but not particularly well-developed. For me, the plot is unfocused, and there is not much action. About half way, I found myself wondering if the pace would pick up. It did, but only slightly. Place and time are important to the story. Although recently written, the language is vividly evocative of a 19th century Victorian novel, and the author excels at descriptions that bring the scenes to life, especially those related to the natural environment. Philosophical questions such as the interplay of religious faith vs. science and the various motivations for improving the dreadful living conditions of the urban poor are explored, but unfortunately, not in much depth. For me, the book was more successful in portraying the boundaries of friendship, the risks involved in advancing medical science, and the expanding role of women in Victorian times. Recommended to readers of Victorian novels. ( )
  Castlelass | Oct 30, 2022 |
*3.5

( )
  Fortunesdearest | Oct 23, 2022 |
Although somewhat interesting, this is a slow moving book full of people with repressed feelings. Set in the 19th century in London and Essex (obviously), it relates the story of a bit of popular hysteria in a small village. At the same time, the parson, a man of education, and a woman from London almost, allllmost strike up a relationship, hindered onnly by the parson's loyalty to his tubercular wife and his morality.

For people interested in 19th century mores, have at it. ( )
  barlow304 | Sep 17, 2022 |
A wonderful journey into the late Victorian age, where science, religion, and superstition vie for the hearts and minds of the Blackwater Estuary in Essex. ( )
  SimonRoyHughes | Sep 3, 2022 |
Showing 1-5 of 156 (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
Laferrière, ChristineTranslatorsecondary 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
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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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Set 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 way. They 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 apart. Told with exquisite grace and intelligence, this novel is most of all a celebration of love, and the many different guises it can take.

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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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