It took me a little while to settle into this original novel, which pairs the modern, small-town Loch Ness-esque mystery of Lauren Groff's The Monsters of Templeton with the quaint language and characterizations of a 19th-century British novel. At its center is Clara, a young widow who has finally escaped an abusive marriage. Free to indulge her interests in natural science, she finds herself (with her odd son and socialist female companion) settled into a backwater village in an uproar over the famed Essex Serpent. Clara is a fascinating and sympathetic character, but then so are all of the characters in Perry's finely written and highly imaginative vision of country life in Victorian England. With unrequited lovers, wasting illnesses, social justice campaigns, mysterious deaths, and, of course, a monster, The Essex Serpent is the kind of marvelous, magical book that makes you want to curl up with a cup of tea and a Do Not Disturb sign until you've devoured every last sentence. Recommended By Rhianna W., Powells.com
It feels as if I've been anticipating this U.S. release forever, but it was well worth the wait. Brilliantly crafted with interesting and well-developed characters, and with rich and vivid imagery, I was transported to this enchanting world that Perry has created. Reading The Essex Serpent was a very enriching experience and one that I will very probably repeat again and again over the years. Recommended By Sheila N., Powells.com
Synopses & Reviews
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
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).
"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 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
"A novel of almost insolent ambition--lush and fantastical, a wild Eden behind a garden gate...it'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
About the Author
Sarah Perry was born in Essex in 1979. Her first novel, After Me Comes the Flood, was longlisted for the Guardian First Book Award and the Folio Prize. She lives in Norwich. The Essex Serpent is her American debut.