The Essex Serpent

The Essex Serpent - Sarah Perry

Sarah Waters, you can reccomend me a book any day. 'The Essex Serpent' is a historical novel set in 1890s England, and overturns all of my expectations.

The village of Aldwinter is in terror of a serpent rumored to have been seen lurking in the Blackwater. There have been mysterious, violent deaths and losses of livestock. Cora Seabourne, a young widow who has ambitions of being the next Mary Anning believes the serpent may be a survivor of a prehistoric world and moves into the village to investigate. She is introduced to the vicar, William Ransome, a practical man who dislikes the superstitious fear the serpent invokes in his parishioners. Their relationship is at the center of the novel, but Perry explores perspective through Cora's oft-rebuffed suitor Dr. Luke Garrett, a talented surgeon, her companion Martha, her odd son Francis, various townspeople, and the minds of the sick, the obsessed, and the dying. Its gorgeous writing and I think its criminal the U.S. release was delayed so long.

The novel stays true to period, despite its unconventional characters, and invokes an age when Science and Order seemed ready to dominate everything, while a baroque style remained popular. Darwinism, with all its attendant problems, is hotly debated alongside the social welfare movements attempting to rescue people from the overcrowding and horrors brought on by rapid industrialization. 'The Essex Serpent' is a marvel.