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The Essex Serpent

by Sarah Perry

The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry X
The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry
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  • Deborah M. (Chambersburg, PA)
    Best Reading Experience So Far This Year
    What a wonderful novel! When I began it, I was afraid it was going to turn out to be some kind of fantasy or magical realism--neither of which I enjoy. But this is a novel as driven by character and ideas as by plot, and the writing is absolutely beautiful. Sarah Perry also has a gift for creating an atmosphere that totally draws the reader into a specific time and place--in this case, London and the small Essex town of Aldwinter in the 1890s.

    Cora Seaborne, newly widowed, seems to have ambivalent feelings about her deceased husband, a wealthy, powerful, but cruel man. In some ways, he shaped her into a new person and a new life; but he also stifled any sense of self that she might have developed. Now on her own, she decides to follow her whims, the primary one being to study paleontology on an amateur level. With her companion Martha, an early feminist with reformist tendencies, and her odd 12-year old son Frankie (who today would likely be considered mildly autistic), Cora packs off to Lyme Regis, where Mary Anning had set off a craze for fossil hunting. But when rumors surface that a strange sea creature, last seen in 1669, may have reappeared in the waters near the small town of Aldwinter, Cora can't resist the opportunity to find something truly remarkable. Her friends Charles and Katherine Ambrose, wealthy aristocrats, provide an introduction to the local parson, Will Ransome, a married father of three with a similar interest in fossils. Will and Cora embark on an unexpected and passionate friendship that threatens to become much more. Their debates on the conflicts between science and faith shape the heart of the novel.

    But this is not the only theme running through 'The Essex Serpent.' There are questions about the nature of love in its many forms: friendship, passion, loyalty, empathy, responsibility, parenthood, and more. These are fleshed out through a series of wonderfully drawn secondary characters: Will's wife Stella, an ethereal creature whose illness pulls her into a strange faith of her own making that centers on all things blue; Luke Garrett, a brilliant surgeon in love with Cora; his devoted friend George Spencer, a wealthy young physician who spends his fortune on charitable projects to impress Cora's companion Martha; Frankie, who seems incapable of loving anyone; and the quirky townsfolk of Aldwinter. Questions of class are never far from the surface; Charles Ambrose, for example, believes in a kind of simplified social Darwinism that keeps individuals in the places they are meant to be.

    All these elements, characters, and ideas twist and turn and intertwine like the body of the elusive serpent while the plot carries the reader along for the ride. There's nary a dull moment here, and a good number of keen insights and startlingly beautiful passages. 'The Essex Serpent' is an all-around winner, the best reading experience I've had so far this year.
  • Nikki M. (Fort Wayne, IN)
    Seriously good read!
    I can see why this has so much buzz across the pond. I am sure it will see much success here upon its release. The characters were amazingly realistic and fleshed out. Pick this one up and give it a few pages to pull you in, you won't regret it!
  • Susan B. (Rutledge, MO)
    excellent intriguing read
    This book wasn't quite what I expected, but I really enjoyed what I got: a well-written, intriguing, sometimes creepy, feels-real story. It is very much written for an English audience-- there were many historical, place and other references that I as an American didn't get. This may be a feature or a bug for you, but I found that it didn't get in the way of my enjoying the story.
  • Lynda C. (Sault Sainte Marie, MI)
    The Essex Serpent
    Enjoying The Essex Serpent has been one of the most outstanding reading experiences I have had in a very long time. I read many, many books across a variety of genres and this one is truly superior.
    I found myself entranced by the incandescent use of language - and either stopped frequently to savour a word, a sentence, or an idea; or read on a few pages and went back to re-read something that had caught my attention. This is something that rarely happens in my reading experience.
    The characters - all of the characters - are unforgettable!
    Each character is so finely drawn and complete in their physical, psychological, and emotional description it is as if they are right before you, living out the story line right now and in vivid color.
    This is a beautiful novel, a multi-layered, intellectually satisfying novel. This novel made me think on many different levels and about many different things...and I became lost in its world.
    Everybody should read this one!
  • Eileen F. (Green Valley, AZ)
    The Essex Serpent
    Sarah Perry has created a novel with very visual descriptions of her characters and the environments they are in. The characters are all unique and most represent different value systems. The story shows how people can be influenced by rumor and tales of the unknown.
  • Terri O. (Chapel Hill, NC)
    Highly recommended
    The Essex Serpent is a beautifully written novel that explores such themes as love and friendship, science and religion, reason and superstition, freedom and powerlessness, and poverty and wealth, set against the divergent backdrops of bustling London and rural Essex in the late 1800s.

    Sarah Perry skillfully brings to life a cast of late Victorian characters that are far from the buttoned-up prudes one might expect, endowing them with complicated interior and exterior lives. They seem both of their time and timeless, and the complex relationships among the characters are presented with both depth and compassion. The many forms of love and friendship are deftly explored and even though the desires of many of the characters are mutually exclusive, somehow the novel leaves one feeling optimistic.

    This book would be a great choice for book clubs and would appeal to fans of Tracy Chevalier and Charles Dickens.
  • Priscilla M. (Houston, TX)
    A hugely entertaining read!
    The Essex Serpent has something for every reader. It is a melange of mystery, historical fiction, love story, and Victorian period piece. The characters are complex yet engaging, and the reader is easily swept up into their struggles and triumphs. I found myself rooting for Cora as she evolved from abused wife to independent, joyous woman. This book is a definite must read for anyone looking for a well-told tale that is rich in atmosphere and multi-layered story lines.
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