My rating: 4 of 5 stars
^^ When Cora Seaborne’s cruel husband dies and she finds herself widowed it’s, quite frankly, a relief for her. Now she can truly start to discover herself away from his restrictions, and of course of those forced upon her by society just because she is a woman living in Victorian times. With this newfound freedom she begins to enjoy life, with her son and close friend Martha. This takes her from London to a Colchester village where restless locals are shrouded with uneasy stories of a huge sea creature with wings.
^^ Keen to unearth the truth about this Essex Serpent, she meets the locals and finds herself taken by William Ransome, the local vicar, of whom she expected to dislike. Both are intrigued with each other and find a friendship they would not have believed possible, had it not been for The Essex Serpent bringing them together.
^^ Although this took quite a while for me to get into, I realised this is not just a story based on the myth and mayhem of The Essex Serpent, but one of life in the 1800s, family, friendship, and Victorian values. It had me pondering on how the vicar never lost his faith, despite many of his congregation doubting theirs, and how the Essex serpent was to blame for a lot of goings on around them — whether truth or fiction.
^^ In Cora’s case, it’s a story of finding herself in a world where society expects certain behaviour from a woman, especially a well-to-do woman that’s recently become a widow. I love how she really loosened up, and broke away from society’s restrictions to be who she wanted to be, even if it meant looking and acting less ladylike than she should. Her self-discovery was a treat to hear unfold.
^^ Incidentally, I listened to this story via audiobook, but also bought the paperback, as I loved the beautiful book cover with the sparkling green serpent on the front. Fickle I know, but it’s a beautiful keeper.
^^ I’ve given this 4 stars, but if I’m honest, I’d rather go down a little, so 3.5 stars seems more appropriate. Three’s just not enough, and a full on four, well… It wasn’t my favourite read, and I didn’t dislike it either. However, I did find it was extremely well-written and the way the story developed did keep me reading until the end.
Overall: Set in Victorian times where the role of a woman was very different to what it is today, this slow starter has so many hidden gems just waiting to unfold. I’d say this is an elegantly written historical fiction tale – shrouded in mystery, Victorian values and family drama.
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About the Author:
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.
About the Book:
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.
This is also a Richard and Judy Book Club Choice.