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The Essex Serpent: A Novel by Sarah Perry
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The Essex Serpent: A Novel (original 2016; edition 2017)

by Sarah Perry (Author)

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
2,3721525,152 (3.65)253
"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)
Member:Kristina_Olga
Title:The Essex Serpent: A Novel
Authors:Sarah Perry (Author)
Info:Custom House (2017), Edition: Reprint, 433 pages
Collections:Your library
Rating:
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Work Information

The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry (2016)

  1. 20
    The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert (ddelmoni)
  2. 20
    Remarkable Creatures by Tracy Chevalier (ddelmoni, KayCliff)
  3. 20
    The Sunlight Pilgrims by Jenni Fagan (wandering_star)
  4. 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)
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» See also 253 mentions

English (148)  Dutch (1)  Spanish (1)  Latvian (1)  German (1)  Italian (1)  Swedish (1)  All languages (154)
Showing 1-5 of 148 (next | show all)
What an odd book. I liked it, but I'm struggling to say why. I suspect I've just been fed literary fiction disguised as something more palatable and mainstream, wrapped in an irresistible cover.

The two most overwhelming impressions I took away from the book are poetry and allegory. Poetry in the form of the prose in the opening pages of the story, where it's so heavy with lyrical verse as to be cloying, and again in the opening pages of each section, where it's dialled down but still more melody than verse. Allegory, because the story feels like the author's way of working out the balance between faith and empiricism, if not for the reader, then perhaps as an exercise for herself.

On a literal level, the story is, as I said, odd. The reader is held at such a remove from the characters, it's hard to feel any emotional investment in any of them. I liked Cora and Will and Stella, but the rest? I'm afraid I really don't understand the point of Luke's part, and for me, Perry utterly failed to convince me that Frankie was anything more or less than a selfish and spoiled boy. Martha, too, struck me as nothing more than a narcissist, caring more about her duty than the people she is fighting for. For me, the most convincing character of the lot was the pan-handler, Taylor.

Still, it's a beautiful, richly told story, if one is willing to experience it as the distance the author holds it. Looked at too closely, it's flawed, but hold it back far enough to fuzz the edges and it's gorgeous. ( )
  murderbydeath | Jan 22, 2022 |
Although the characters weren't very memorable, they were worth following through this story where the serpent is a metaphor for something, perhaps a focus for fear. Highly readable, the first chapter was best in referencing other fiction, making the reader feel smart. It is not, as some review say, either highly Victorian or very Gothic, except in spirit. ( )
  lisamlane | Jan 13, 2022 |
Il Club del Libro / DRS
Libro del mese di Maggio 2018 ( )
  JaqJaq | Jan 7, 2022 |
I was caught off guard at first, being so used to books stating everything plainly like, 'look, here's the deal'. I thought I must have gotten distracted and missed things after reading the first chapter and went back and reread it, but no, that's really just how it was. Subtly showing the reader more often than telling. You're almost collecting clues to string together for meaning. Or handed puzzle pieces and it's up to you to arrange them into the correct picture. It is very different from most books! Some 'reading between the lines' required, but it's worth it. I think people are probably likely to either feel dumb and lost, or feel clever and intrigued. For me, it was a very nice break from being beaten over the head with an author's point, 'and once more for the people who missed it the first three times!...'. It was almost like a vote of confidence shown in the intelligence of her readers.

The tone is a bit sobering I think, sometimes a little raw feeling, but life isn't all sanitized and easy and joyful all the time, so I appreciated the truth of it. The start was a bit slow for me, but it got increasingly more interesting. There was also a poetry in the words chosen and arranged. I am impressed.

Also Juanita McMahon does a wonderful reading in the audiobook! ( )
  JorgeousJotts | Dec 3, 2021 |
I appreciated the structure of the writing, the author's choice to end with all the characters in more optimistic spots than I would have expected given where they were at the start. I wished that Cora was more connected to something at the end. But getting back a home of her own is a big thing. ( )
  Je9 | Aug 10, 2021 |
Showing 1-5 of 148 (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
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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"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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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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