Pages: 422 pages
Published: May 27, 2016
Publisher: Custom House
Genre: Fiction, Historical Fiction
“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.”
Last year, as my trip through England was winding down, I took train to Kingston-upon-Thames. I stayed in Kingston when I did my study abroad program in college so this was like a trip down memory lane. And what I always do when on holiday, I visited a bookstore, Waterstones to be more precise. While I was making my purchases, the cashier/bookseller saw that I was buying Middlemarch by George Eliot and she asked me if I like historical fiction. I said yes and she recommended that I should read the latest bestseller, The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry. She gave it rave reviews and thought since I liked historical fiction, I would enjoy this. Her co-worker, who I heard our conversation, also started praising the book as well. With a few more exclamation of praise, I was convinced into buying the book. I usually avoid books that have been overhyped but the way the booksellers were talking about it seems like this one would be different so I decided to take a chance.
And I am so glad I did.
The Essex Serpent was an insightful, thought-provoking novel that captivated me from the very first chapter. This book has everything I look for in a book: great writing, intriguing storytelling, terrific imagery, and interesting characters. I found it to be highly enjoyable. Every minute that I encountered was an incredible journey and I was sad to see it go.
The characters were so intriguing that literally left off the page for me. The chemistry between Cora and Will was electric. If the concept of science and the idea of religion were ever in the same room together, that is how their relationship would play out. The character development was well thought out, especially for story set in the Victorian era. It is not possible feat to do, but Perry was successful. These characters were more than just playing their part in the story. They represents the unobtainable. They are all in search of something, whether it is God or reason, but in the end they never get what their heart desires. It portrays heart and reason cannot coexist in this era.
This book reminded me of another book, The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton. An unknown deity was also influencing events in the story. But this concept was executed much better and clearer than Burton’s book. The serpent was a catalyst. It was push for the characters to search for something that was out of their comfortable sphere, even if led to heartache and disappointment.
If you are looking for a book that tells a story of a search for a mythical creature, then you will be disappointed in this book. It is more of a literary and analytical fiction but telling a beautiful story at the same time. If you like The Miniaturist, then you will enjoy this book. Same goes if you didn’t like it. This haunting and imgaginative tale will have you treasure this as classic.
Overall rating: 4 out of 5 stars