The Essex Serpent

The Essex Serpent

A Novel

Book - 2016
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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.
Publisher: New York, NY : Custom House, [2016]
Edition: Frist U.S. edition.
Copyright Date: ©2016
ISBN: 9780062666376
0062666371
Branch Call Number: FIC PERRY
Characteristics: 416 pages ; 23 cm

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robertafsmith Apr 17, 2018

Roberta's pick: This is a deliciously convoluted read that I thoroughly enjoyed. Friendship and all it's various nuances underlie this read. That and the fine, blurred line between friendship and love. All this set at a time when superstition pits itself against the logic of science.

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Brontina66
Apr 06, 2018

When the reviews of a book are extremely good, I am now very careful and tend not to believe them. In this case, I was partially right. This story has been compared to the works of Wilkie Collins or Mary Shelley, and I personally don't agree: the style is very different, in a way more 'modern'. However, The Essex Serpent is certainly a great book and I enjoyed reading it. The first chapters are a bit slow, but at least start with some good news: the death of an abusive husband. That event finally allows his widow - smart, independent, vulnerable Cora - to start living the life she wants. She moves from London to a small village in Essex with her maid/friend Martha and her autistic son Francis. There, she is introduced to a local legend - a monstrous creature come back from a medieval past to wreak havoc on a small coast village - and to Will Ransome (the vicar) and his family. Cora is a naturalist - or tries to be - doesn't care about appearances, and manages to make almost everybody like her. Her husband's doctor is in love with her; the vicar befriends her immediately and his family adores her. But enough of the story, I don't want to spoil it. What I liked in the plot is the presence of several themes that intertwine beautifully and are still relevant today. For example, how does Cora not understand the dark nature of her husband before marrying him? Why does she come to think that being trapped in a miserable marriage is natural or acceptable? True, to obtain a divorce was almost impossible, especially if the husband didn't leave certain marks on his wife's body (see Heathcliff's treatment of Isabella in Wuthering Heights), but the point is that still today women marry abusive men, preferring - it seems to me - a life of misery at their hands rather than a life of independence and freedom without them. There are also other themes, beside the battered wife one: the treatment of children with autism; the conflict between duty and desire; the effect of illness on one's mind; the persistence of superstition and ignorance. The Essex Serpent is a book worth reading, full of background information about the housing crisis in London, the development of surgery, the life style in the countryside as opposed to the city, the spreading of Marxist ideas... Do not expect a Victorian book, but appreciate and enjoy the fact that the author did an excellent job of researching and reading the Victorian age before writing a great story.

m
mjohnson313
Mar 18, 2018

A deftly handled study of human relationships and the philosophies, conventions and obligations that shape them. On the surface, Perry explores the timeless interaction of science vs. faith, embodied by our protagonist and her star-cross'd sweetheart—the married parson of a small, seaside village. However, through the cast of characters that orbit this nascent romance, we see the effects of social structure, government, urban, rural, education, matrimony, health and superstition on our day-to-day lives.

All of this, of course, set against the muddy, foreboding backdrop of Victorian England. Much like the setting, this book is conservatively paced...measured in months and punctuated by correspondence between various characters. The pace and plotting, however, rewards the reader who sticks with it, providing enough twists and turns to make you wonder if there is indeed something lurking in the blackwater of Aldwinter bay.

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finn75
Feb 06, 2018

Complicated human relationships tied up and complicated by Victorian religious beliefs, social change, superstition and science. I thought I would enjoy this more but perhaps my expectations were too high.

EscapesToBooks Jan 03, 2018

A beautiful exploration of the human psyche.

debwalker Dec 28, 2017

For those who love a deep immersive read that takes you into another world - late Victorian Essex and London. So much meat on these bones! Characters who live and breathe. Love triangles every which way. And battles of ideas - science vs religion - never gets old. So much like us in some ways. And not. People consumed by diseases and wounds that are now curable. Women trapped in toxic marriages. Autism present but not understood. And medieval superstitions just lurking beneath the surface of things. Amply deserving of the awards.

SPL_Brittany Oct 09, 2017

For a full review see the Summary section. Review first published in the Stratford Gazette October 2017.

1
1_Great_Book
Sep 28, 2017

Plodding with too many pages. A good subject that could have been honed into a better work.

b
brangwinn
Sep 19, 2017

Hum, this wasn’t my favorite book, and I’m not sure why. It certainly tilted my vision of Victorian England. An independent wealthy widow with a Marxist loving assistant and a son who might be diagnosed as highly functioning autistic today. Cora leaves London for Essex because of her love of fossils. She finds a community worried about a sea monster, and she finds love in a strange place, a parsonage with a deep-thinking minister and his wife dying of tuberculosis. Add a wealthy London doctor who wants to put his fortune to good use, and a forward-thinking surgeon who is in love with the widow, Cora. All the elements are there for a good book, and it is excellent writing, descriptive and detailed but it didn’t suck me into the pages the way I expected it to do.

x___x Aug 30, 2017

A memorable book with interesting characters and wonderful atmosphere. I can see this book as a movie and hope it's on the cards.

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SPL_Brittany Oct 09, 2017

Set in the late Victorian era, recent widow Cora Seaborne leaves London with her son Francis, and loyal companion Martha and journeys to Aldwinter, a small village in Essex, where a legendary fearsome creature called the Essex Serpent has been sighted. Cora, who is more interested in the study of nature as an amateur naturalist, would rather be tramping about the countryside free from the strictures of society and the trappings of her gender, is determined to find proof of this creature. Through mutual acquaintances, she is introduced to the Ransome family - William the local reverend, his devoted yet sickly wife Stella and their three children. While Cora looks for scientific reasoning for the serpent, William dismisses it as superstition and a deviation from true faith. Cora and Will’s friendship is both forged and exasperated by their differing opinions as they can agree on absolutely nothing, yet both are drawn toward the other. Their friendship is threatened with the arrival of Cora’s friend Luke Garrett a skilled surgeon who carries a not-so-secret torch for Cora. In the end, a fatal illness, a knife-wielding maniac, and a fated union with the Essex Serpent will dictate the happiness of these characters.

A perfect time of the year to sit back and enjoy transporting to a time in England where the belief in mythical creatures and modern science coexisted side by side. Where Londoners traveled by tube and horse drawn carriages, used both electricity and candlelight, and experimented with modern medicine. Perry writes a novel filled with beautiful prose that is atmospheric and a touch gothic, filled with wonderfully drawn characters who offer social commentary on the debate between science and religion, social issues in London, as well as examining the varied nature of love through each of the characters who orbit around Cora. Awarded British Book of the Year and gathering increasing attention, a wonderful read that will delight readers of literary and historical fiction as well as providing plenty of discussion for book clubs.

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