The Essex Serpent: A Book Review.

Good Evening fellow book worms!  I hope you have had a great weekend!  For tonight’s blog post, I will be reviewing The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry.  So, for those of you who haven’t heard of it, what’s it about?  Let’s roll out the trusty blurb…

essexLondon 1893.  When Cora Seaborne’s husband dies, she steps into her new life as a widow with as much relief as sadness: her marriage was not a happy one, and she never suited the role of society wife.  Accompanied by her son Francis- a curious obsessive boy- she leaves town for Essex, where she hopes fresh air and open space will provide the refuge they need.

When they take lodgings in Colchester, rumours reach them from further up the estuary that the mythical Essex Serpent, once said to roam the marshes claiming human lives, has returned to the coastal parish of Aldwinter.  Cora, a keen amateur  naturalist with no patience for religion or superstition, is immediately enthralled, convinced that what the local people think is a magical beast may be a previously undiscovered species.  As she sets out on its trail, she is introduced to William Ransome, Aldwinter’s vicar.

Like Cora, Will is deeply suspicious of the rumours, but he thinks they are founded on moral panic, a flight from real faith.  As he tries to calm his parishioners, he and Cora strike up an intense relationship, and although they agree on absolutely nothing, they find themselves inexorably drawn together and torn apart, eventually changing each other’s lives in a way entirely unexpected.

First, let me start off by stating the obvious…if you aren’t a fan of classic literature, then this book isn’t for you.  Sarah Perry’s beautiful use of language and the entire style and tone of the book, means it could easily have been written in the days of Bronte and Dickens.  It is a Victorian novel through and through, from its emphasis on class, propriety and wealth, to the character’s attempts to subdue their passions, this is very much a book in the old style.  And yet, Perry cleverly manages to deal with issues which are just as relevant today as they were a century ago- advancing medicine and the moral questions it raises, how the wealthy treat the poor, Religion and superstition and science battling for supremacy and mass hysteria.  Look beyond the classic style writing and setting, and you see the world hasn’t changed all that much.

Perry has a beautiful way with words.  She paints the Essex country side so vividly in your mind, that you can almost smell the saltings as you read.  Each character is incredibly well developed and fleshed out, and the story line, whilst not exactly action packed, keeps you returning to the pages, hungry for more.  The question of the existence of the Essex serpent is the thread running throughout the book, tying the other storylines together, like the blossoming love between Cora Seaborne and Will Ransome, and the unrequited love of Dr Luke Garrett.  However, this book is a slow burner.  For those of you who seek something filled with intrigue and action, this book is not for you, its pace running in tandem with its small village setting of Aldwinter.  Whilst the characters themselves are changed, sometimes profoundly, by the book’s end, everything seems to continue on as it had before, which some readers may find frustrating.  I understand the need to have endings tied up neatly in bows, with love conquering all and people finding their happy ever afters, however life is rarely plays out so simplistically, and often, a happy ending may not be the obvious one.

Overall, I enjoyed the book, and would recommend it to anyone who favours their books with a taste of the old.

If you found this review helpful, I am now on Good reads, so find me and friend me for more of the same!  Have you read this book?  Let me know your thoughts in the comments!



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