The Essex Serpent: A Novel by Sarah PerryThe Essex Serpent: A Novel by Sarah Perry

The Essex Serpent: A Novel

bySarah Perry

Paperback | June 6, 2017

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A Kirkus Review Best Book of 2017 and a Washington Post Notable Work of Fiction. Winner of the British Book Awards Fiction Book of the Year and overall Book of the Year, selected as the Waterstones Book of the Year, and a Costa Book Award Finalist

"A novel of almost insolent ambition--lush and fantastical, a wild Eden behind a garden's part ghost story and part natural history lesson, part romance and part feminist parable. I found it so transporting that 48 hours after completing it, I was still resentful to be back home."  -New York Times

“An irresistible new novel…the most delightful heroine since Elizabeth Bennet in Pride and Prejudice…By the end, The Essex Serpent identifies a mystery far greater than some creature ‘from the illuminated margins of a manuscript’: friendship.”  -Washington Post

"Richly enjoyable... Ms. Perry writes beautifully and sometimes agreeably sharply... The Essex Serpent is a wonderfully satisfying novel. Ford Madox Ford thought the glory of the novel was its ability to make the reader think and feel at the same time. This one does just that." -Wall Street Journal

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 séance. This is the best new novel I’ve read in years" (Daily Telegraph).

Title:The Essex Serpent: A NovelFormat:PaperbackDimensions:432 pages, 8.25 × 5.5 × 1.2 inPublished:June 6, 2017Publisher:HarperCollinsLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0062696270

ISBN - 13:9780062696274

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Rated 3 out of 5 by from Disppointing Plot But Love The Prose! ***Review Contains Spoilers!*** Set in the late 19th century London, the intelligent, wealthy and recently widowed Cora Seaborne forgoes the society life of London and leaves for Colchester, Essex with her 11 years old son, Francis and her nanny and good friend, Martha. Cora's plan to look for fossils on the coastal Essex is derailed upon learning about the rumours that the Essex Serpent has returned to the Essex village of Aldwinter after 300 years. She is later acquainted with Reverend William Ransome, Rector of Aldwinter Parish through Cora's friend, Charles Ambrose. Both Cora & William attempt to discover the truth about this fearsome creature but with different motives - Cora hopes a new species will be discovered while William hopes to debunk this mythical creature as mere superstition. The lush setting for this story is absolutely stunning - marshland, coasts, village, fog, etc - beautifully written through Perry's descriptive writing. I think this is the strongest element in the book. If you enjoy prose, this book will not disappoint. This is a character driven story. Cora is the unorthodox forward-thinking 19th century woman who possesses a scientific mind and has no qualms in breaking traditions. Martha is also another strong character in the story - a socialist who fights for housing improvement in London. We also meet other supporting characters - Francis Seaborne. Dr. Luke Garrett, Spencer, William & Stella Ransome, Edward Burton, and Charles & Katherine Ambrose. These characters are certainly well-developed with much depth and dimensions (which is usually a good thing) but in this case I think it was overdone. There are individual chapters (and/or paragraphs after paragraphs) written for these characters, which I think was overwhelming or unnecessary. I did not see how they weaved into the plot of the story in the end. The saying "Too many cooks spoil the broth" applies here. Moreover, with these extra hundreds of pages, I almost did not finish the book. This book suffers greatly in delivering the promised plot. If you are hoping for a thrilling adventure or some cryptozoology element in the story, you will be painfully disappointed. The serpent is only really mentioned in the beginning and towards the end of the book. The rest of the story is all about the characters' stories. The plot is not solid and there are multi subplots to a point of obscuring the plot about the Essex Serpent. At this point, I felt I was misled by the synopsis and the title of the book! In a nutshell, I did not love this book neither did I hate it. I enjoyed this book for what it is - for the beautiful prose, the lush setting, the characters and how the myth of the Essex Serpent brought these characters together. This is the first book I've read from Perry and will it be my last? Strangely enough, I am still looking forward to reading her upcoming book Melmoth.
Date published: 2018-07-19
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Completely unexpected and utterly charming! I can't agree with any of the previous half-hearted or negative reviews. This book was a most welcome read, and a wonderful surprise! One thing I will concede is that the mystery of the Essex serpent is what drew me in, but there isn't really a big over-arching mystery that is explored through the book; not the way you'd think, anyhow. So that may have been a *tad* misleading on the flap for anyone giving it a quick once over, but I adored this. If you're a fan of modern literature mimicking Victorian era-lit, you'll love this. LOVE it. Perry nails her narrative voice and she nails her characters; the prose is lyrical and gorgeous: so alive with personification and she draws heavily on the character of nature and the elements in the story, as so often occurred in Victorian literature. The tale revolves around Cora Seaborne, newly widowed and eager to explore everything life has to offer now that her awful, abusive husband is dead and gone. After hearing a report of an 'Essex serpent' terrorising the town of Aldwinter and neighbouring communities, she takes her maid, Martha, and unsettlingly peculiar son, Francis, to its shores. Following a year in the life of Cora & co., as well as Dr. Luke Garrett, his friend and colleague Spencer, the Ambrose couple and Will & Stella Ransome (and their lively children), we learn the Essex serpent may be nothing tangible at all, and something we invite to our own doorsteps. Everyone has their own personal, unique Essex serpent they must grapple with and do so in this narrative. This is a love story, at its core, full of imagery and metaphor; Cora is something like Mary Poppins (I liked to think) and in the end, every single character realises what they needed may have been right in front of their nose, or not at all, the entire time. Such a wonderful tale of discovery and friendship and life, to be perfectly honest, and everything just feels right in the end. The mystery that binds them all together isn't earth-shattering at all but the intent is to dig a little deeper and read between the lines. The story is written so beautifully and masterfully you'll be done with it before you know it. Absolutely, yes, read this book. I pity anyone who didn't make it to the end!
Date published: 2018-04-11
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Not quite what I was expecting I thought this book was going to have more action and adventure in it, and I should not have set myself up that way. The book is beautiful and the story is moving. I found it to be a slow read, but an enjoyable one nonetheless.
Date published: 2018-03-26
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Meh How can I say this? This is not what I would call a good book. I feel like it's my fault - I loved the cover, I read the synopsis on the inside and I feel like I was expecting a very different story. What I got was a repressed, angst-ridden Victorian love story (sort of?)...
Date published: 2018-02-05
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Highly recommend! As someone who loves all things Victorian, this was right up my alley! I really enjoyed Perry's writing, which was often poetic. Although the story was gripping, the characters themselves were a little less so. Nonetheless, one of my favourite novels of the year.
Date published: 2017-12-31
Rated 5 out of 5 by from If you're looking for 50 shades, avoid this book.. I saw this book a while back, and thought i'd get it despite the negative comments. If you read up on Sarah Perry, she was exposed to old literature from the moment she could read. She is an amazing writer and I look forward to reading her future books. This story gives you just the right amount of information to keep you guessing. Just when you think you know what's going to happen, it changes. I absolutely loved her writing, and this story. If you're a fan of Jane Austen, you'll love Sarah's work.
Date published: 2017-11-24
Rated 1 out of 5 by from A bit of a disappoint On the surface this book had everything that interested me: a newly widowed Victorian woman, a mysterious monster lurking in the mists of coastal essex, and a beautiful front cover. Although I began the novel with excitement, I quickly learned that the story was better in theory than in practice. At first, I couldn't put my finger on it. It had everything I wanted! I should have enjoyed it! It was destined to be a favourite. But the writing was altogether bland and, despite trying really hard, I didn't seem to care about any of the characters. Stay away from this book.
Date published: 2017-09-29
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Disappointed The book didn't get interesting until 200 some pages in, and even so there was no real climax or satisfying conclusion to the novel. In addition, the characters were fairly uninteresting, and the overall plot was rather overrated. The elements of mystery were lacking. I was disappointed because the novel sounded really interesting but in reality it was slow and underwhelming.
Date published: 2017-09-19
Rated 3 out of 5 by from A bit disappointed It was good, yes but not great. The storyline and setting were intriguing but slow and there was no climax or aspect to ponder about afterward. A bit disappointed, to be honest as it came highly recommended. The Wonder by Emma Donaghue is a much better example of compelling historical fiction, in my opinion.
Date published: 2017-04-25

Editorial Reviews

“Sarah Perry’s novel of 19th century England tackles big ideas...reversals and sharp darts of psychological insight combined with a sense of the substance and feeling of late 19th-century ideas in bloom make this a fine novel, both historical and otherwise.”