Sarah Perry’s award-winning novel, set at the end of the nineteenth century and inspired by true events.
Moving between Essex and London, myth and modernity, Cora Seaborne’s spirited search for the Essex Serpent encourages all around her to test their allegiance to faith or reason in an age of rapid scientific advancement. At the same time, the novel explores the boundaries of love and friendship and the allegiances that we have to one another. The depth of feeling that the inhabitants of Aldwinter share are matched by their city counterparts as they strive to find the courage to express and understand their deepest desires, and strongest fears.
My Rating: * * *
This was a very different book than I am used to reading, but I did enjoy it. To me this was a story of complex relationships, human nature, and the power of superstition and fear on a community. It is also about female independence.
Cora Seaborne has become widowed by a sadistic but wealthy husband. She is now free to pursue her interest in Paleontology, and leave her life in society that she loathed. Traveling with her disturbed son and his nanny she settles in the small Essex village of Aldwinter. Stories of tragic deaths and disappearances by a supposed Sea Serpent has drawn her there. There, she meets local vicar Will Ransome, and the two form an instant friendship, despite their supposedly opposing views — and despite the fact that the vicar already has a wife and children. Cora believes the snake is real, William does not and has no patience for what he deems godless superstition, but they are nonetheless drawn together in an inescapable attraction of opposites. Given his wife Stella is Consumptive you can guess where this may lead.
I felt there could have been a little more gothic atmosphere, and menace included. About the only eerie atmosphere was the curious fog always surrounding the area. The only menacing moment I read is when a group of school girls begin hysterically laughing during a presentation by Cora.
Even though this is not what I thought the novel would be about I still liked it, and would recommend it.
Sarah Perry was born in Essex in 1979, and was raised as a Strict Baptist. Having studied English at Anglia Ruskin University she worked as a civil servant before studying for an MA in Creative Writing and a PhD in Creative Writing and the Gothic at Royal Holloway, University of London. In 2004 she won the Spectator’s Shiva Naipaul Award for travel writing.
In January 2013 she was Writer-in-Residence at Gladstone’s Library. Here she completed the final draft of her first novel, After Me Comes the Flood , which was published by Serpent’s Tail in June 2014 to international critical acclaim. It won the East Anglian Book of the Year Award 2014, and was longlisted for the 2014 Guardian First Book Award and nominated for the 2014 Folio Prize. In January and February 2016 Sarah was the UNESCO City of Literature Writer-in-Residence in Prague.
Her second novel, The Essex Serpent , was published by Serpent’s Tail in May 2016. It was a number one bestseller in hardback, and was named Waterstones Book of the Year 2016. It was shortlisted for the Costa Novel Award 2017, and was longlisted for the Bailey’s Women’s Prize for Fiction 2017, the Wellcome Book Prize, the International Dylan Thomas Prize, and the New Angle Prize for Literature. It was broadcast on Radio 4 as a Book at Bedtime in April 2017, is being translated into eleven languages, and has been chosen for the Richard and Judy Summer Book Club 2017.
Sarah has spoken at a number of institutions including Gladstone’s Library, the Centre of Theological Inquiry at Princeton, and the Anglo-American University in Prague, on subjects including theology, the history and status of friendship in literature, the Gothic, and Foxe’s Book of Martyrs. Her essays have been published in the Guardian and the Spectator, and broadcast on BBC Radio 4. She reviews fiction for the Guardian and the Financial Times.
She currently lives in Norwich, where she is completing her third novel.