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The Essex Serpent (2016)

by Sarah Perry

Other authors: See the other authors section.

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
2,1601455,447 (3.67)242
"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)
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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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» See also 242 mentions

English (139)  Dutch (1)  Spanish (1)  Latvian (1)  German (1)  Italian (1)  Swedish (1)  All languages (145)
Showing 1-5 of 139 (next | show all)
I confess I was unable to finish the book. I bought it based on the cover art and an intriguing premise. I found, though, that the characters were not compelling enough to sustain my interest. ( )
  pmackey | Jun 22, 2021 |
I stayed up too late to finish this and then was sorry I had because it was over. Chilly, damp Victorian England; a complicated, smart, floundering woman with an odd son; a kind, fragile woman with heart and guts; several intelligent, difficult men; all admirably depicted in thoughtful, formal language... that'll do it for me, thank you. Relationships are tangled and fraught; philosophies and ethics of science, faith and love collide. What is the Serpent but a manifestation of everything we fear or distrust or don't want to believe? Spoiler (sort of...): it almost doesn't matter what it turns out to be, because how we think about it and respond to it is much more important. This is a book I wish I could have written. I will now look out for Sarah Perry's first novel (After Me Comes The Flood) and wait eagerly for her next. ( )
  JulieStielstra | May 17, 2021 |
Meh. I’ve heard rave reviews about how great The Essex Serpent was. It was a so-so historical fiction account centered around a rumor of a mysterious beast off the Essex coast. The Londoners get involved with the country people and culture clash ensues. The abused widow with her autistic son, the doctor buddies, the parson with his dying wife and their brood, the socialist friend and the murderous co-worker—none of them are all that compelling. The best thing about this book is the beautifully designed cover. ( )
1 vote varielle | Apr 28, 2021 |
I have done some great reading this year, but The Essex Serpent is my favorite by far. Quirky characters living on the edge of the sea, their village overshadowed by a Loch Ness style serpent. Characters and their stories intertwined in serpent-like ways. There was just the right amount of magic and mystery. And, Perry captured Victorian sensibilities perfectly. She used letters effectively to give the reader the behind-the-scenes feelings of the characters. I was just captivated.
  witchyrichy | Apr 13, 2021 |
I have put off reading this for some time, because of the very mixed reviews I have seen. I ended up really enjoying this. I especially liked the older children's characters--Joanna, Naomi, and Francis. But Perry's various characters in Aldwinter are so lively--from the Cracknell and his goats, to the Ransome family, the Banks father and daughter, the teacher. I liked how Perry managed to bring in the wealthier Ambrose family and the surgeons, and Cora Seaborne. Friends-of-friends meet, and become close friends. The various personalities that make a small town go round. Throw in a bit of mystery (the Essex Serpent), and see how people react and behave--both in groups and singly. Plus a case of TB because it is the 19th century. Also, Perry does a great job writing weather, and sets modd very well. ( )
  Dreesie | Mar 1, 2021 |
Showing 1-5 of 139 (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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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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"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)"--

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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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