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The Essex Serpent
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The Essex Serpent (Paperback)

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Synopsis

London 1893. When Cora Seaborne's controlling husband dies, she steps into her new life as a widow with as much relief as sadness. Along with her son Francis - a curious, obsessive boy - she leaves town for Essex, in the hope that fresh air and open space will provide refuge. On arrival, rumours reach them that the mythical Essex Serpent, once said to roam the marshes claiming lives, has returned to the coastal parish of Aldwinter. Cora, a keen amateur naturalist with no patience for superstition, is enthralled, convinced that what the local people think is a magical beast may be a yet-undiscovered species. As she sets out on its trail, she is introduced to William Ransome, Aldwinter's vicar, who is also deeply suspicious of the rumours, but thinks they are a distraction from true faith. As he tries to calm his parishioners, Will and Cora strike up an intense relationship, and although they agree on absolutely nothing, they find themselves at once drawn together and torn apart, affecting each other in ways that surprise them both. The Essex Serpent is a celebration of love, and the many different shapes it can take.



Fiction & PoetryHistorical FictionFiction & PoetryRomanceErotic FictionHistorical romanceFiction & PoetryRomanceRomance Publisher: Profile Books Ltd Publication Date: 20/04/2017 ISBN-13: 9781781255452  Details: Type: Paperback Format: Books
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Sarah Perry was born in Essex in 1979. She has been the writer in residence at Gladstone's Library and the UNESCO World City of Literature Writer in Residence in Prague. After Me Comes the Flood, her first novel, was longlisted for the Guardian First Book Award and the Folio Prize, and won the East Anglian Book of the Year Award in 2014. Her latest novel, The Essex Serpent, was a number one bestseller, Waterstones Book of the Year 2016 and both Fiction book of the Year and Overall Book of the Year 2017 at the British Book Awards. It was then nominated for a further eight literary prizes, including the Costa Novel Award 2017, and the Bailey's Women's Prize for Fiction 2017. Her work is being translated into fifteen languages, and her essays and fiction have been broadcast on BBC Radio 4 and RTE 1. She reviews fiction for the Guardian and the Financial Times. She lives in Norwich.

See our Author Page for Sarah Perry

More books by Sarah Perry

Customer Reviews

This is an enormous, intense book. Not in terms of length, although it is over four hundred pages long, but in terms of subject matter, themes, ideas and characters. It is not a quick read, as passages need to be savoured and ideas thought through. This is a fascinating and detailed book, with fantastic descriptions of the thin barrier between land and sea, truth and fiction, attraction and the sadness of loss. It is an historical novel with vivid descriptions of not only time and conditions, but of the mind sets of a world full of challenges to the accepted order. This novel deals with courage, questions, love, disturbed minds and bravery. While sometimes there is a danger of the narrative arc becoming lost within the character’s agendas and the moving descriptions, overall it is a fascinating novel. The story opens with the death of a character, almost to the relief of his wife, Cora Seabourne. 1893 is a year of discovery and change as people question the beliefs and understandings of decades, when even the natural world seems to be revealing its secrets. In her quest to find freedom and fossils, Cora and her faithful companion Martha encounter a clergyman in Essex, William Ransome. His coastal parish of Aldwinter is beset with fear of a giant serpent which is said to emerge from the sea to kill and devour people and animals. The events of New Year’s Day preface the novel, as a man is killed in mysterious circumstances at the edge of the sea. The fear is real for those who live in this place where living and dying seems to be dictated by the mysterious and unknown. William’s parish is full of the fearful, and his fixation with a carved serpent in the church comes to dominate his own view. His family is remarkable, with his daughter desperate to further her understanding of the world around her, and his wife Stella becoming obsessed with the colour blue. Meanwhile the doctor that attended Cora’s husband, Luke, is fixated on her and the quest to perform the most seemingly impossible of operations. His friend and benefactor, Spencer, is influenced into becoming involved in the plight of London’s poor and their appalling treatment by Martha, and he becomes involved in the whole story of Cora’s friendships. The intense relationship between Cora and William defies description as they acknowledge each other’s preoccupations and responsibilities, while the triumphs and tragedies of so many other people rage around them. There are so many themes and issues within this novel that one read through is insufficient; Perry keeps a hold on the book’s essential ‘strangeness’ only with difficulty. It holds so many issues in tension, such as women’s changing roles, the conflict between faith and fear, the rights of those people who barely exist in London being denied access to good housing. Each character, however incidental to the plot, is well described, so that it can feel a little overwhelming. This book has many great aspects, descriptions and ideas, but it can be a tough read and frequently I needed to check back on characters. There are whole lines of narrative, such as the medical breakthrough in a first operation of its type that almost deserve a novel of themselves. This is in all senses an amazing book, far more than an historical novel, and definitely worth the effort of reading it. If anything, it has so many ideas that it can sometimes be difficult to read, despite being beautifully written from the standpoint of various characters. I suggest clearing more than a few hours to savour it!

- 18/04/2018
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Author Choice

They are all haunted. Widow Cora Seaborne by an abusive marriage, and ghosts of who she might be. Vicar William Ransome by fidelity and desire. And Essex too: but more by history and intimacies than by a saurian in the marshes. Perry gave me something I didn’t realise I missed: a novel besotted with life — and with the form of the novel itself.

Damon Young - 27/06/2017

Staff Choice

If richly textured embroidery could come to life – the figures within it moving and changing, the colours shimmering, darkening at the touch of a hand or the brush of two passing souls in the night – I might come close to a metaphor for reading The Essex Serpent. But why bother with a metaphor, when you can just read this startling, sumptuous book for yourself?

Marion, Charing Cross Road


Read an interview with the author here

Charing Cross Rd Bookshop - 07/11/2016

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