The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry
A Novel

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Fans of Sarah Waters, A.S. Byatt, and Elizabeth Gilbert’s The Signature of All Things should prepare to fall under Perry’s spell and into her very capable hands. Stuffed with smarts and storytelling sorcery, this is a work of astonishing breadth and brilliance.
-Kirkus

Synopsis

Costa Book Award Finalist and the Waterstones (UK) Book of the Year 2016

"I loved this book. At once numinous, intimate and wise, The Essex Serpent is a marvelous novel about the workings of life, love and belief, about science and religion, secrets, mysteries, and the complicated and unexpected shifts of the human heart—and it contains some of the most beautiful evocations of place and landscape I’ve ever read. It is so good its pages seem lit from within. As soon as I’d finished it I started reading it again."—Helen MacDonald, author of H is for Hawk

An exquisitely talented young British author makes her American debut with this rapturously acclaimed historical novel, set in late nineteenth-century England, about an intellectually minded young widow, a pious vicar, and a rumored mythical serpent that explores questions about science and religion, skepticism, and faith, independence and love.

When Cora Seaborne’s brilliant, domineering husband dies, she steps into her new life as a widow with as much relief as sadness: her marriage was not a happy one. Wed at nineteen, this woman of exceptional intelligence and curiosity was ill-suited for the role of society wife. Seeking refuge in fresh air and open space in the wake of the funeral, Cora leaves London for a visit to coastal Essex, accompanied by her inquisitive and obsessive eleven-year old son, Francis, and the boy’s nanny, Martha, her fiercely protective friend.

While admiring the sites, Cora learns of an intriguing rumor that has arisen further up the estuary, of a fearsome creature said to roam the marshes claiming human lives. After nearly 300 years, the mythical Essex Serpent is said to have returned, taking the life of a young man on New Year’s Eve. A keen amateur naturalist with no patience for religion or superstition, Cora is immediately enthralled, and certain that what the local people think is a magical sea beast may be a previously undiscovered species. Eager to investigate, she is introduced to local vicar William Ransome. Will, too, is suspicious of the rumors. But unlike Cora, this man of faith is convinced the rumors are caused by moral panic, a flight from true belief.

These seeming opposites who agree on nothing soon find themselves inexorably drawn together and torn apart—an intense relationship that will change both of their lives in ways entirely unexpected.

Hailed by Sarah Waters as "a work of great intelligence and charm, by a hugely talented author," The Essex Serpent is "irresistible . . . you can feel the influences of Mary Shelley, Bram Stoker, Wilkie Collins, Charles Dickens, and Hilary Mantel channeled by Perry in some sort of Victorian séance. This is the best new novel I’ve read in years" (Daily Telegraph, London).

 

About Sarah Perry

See more books from this Author
Sarah Perry’s first novel, After Me Comes the Flood, was longlisted for the Guardian First Book Award and the Folio Prize, and won the East Anglian Book of the Year Award. She was born in Essex and lives in Norwich, England. Author Image 1
 
Published June 6, 2017 by Custom House. 432 pages
Genres: History, Literature & Fiction. Fiction
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Critic reviews for The Essex Serpent
All: 4 | Positive: 4 | Negative: 0

Kirkus

Excellent
on Mar 06 2017

Fans of Sarah Waters, A.S. Byatt, and Elizabeth Gilbert’s The Signature of All Things should prepare to fall under Perry’s spell and into her very capable hands. Stuffed with smarts and storytelling sorcery, this is a work of astonishing breadth and brilliance.

Read Full Review of The Essex Serpent: A Novel | See more reviews from Kirkus

Publishers Weekly

Above average
on Sep 28 2017

Like John Fowles’s The French Lieutenant’s Woman, whose Lyme Regis setting gets a shout-out here, this is another period literary pastiche with a contemporary overlay. Cora makes for a fiercely independent heroine around whom all the other characters orbit.

Read Full Review of The Essex Serpent: A Novel | See more reviews from Publishers Weekly

NY Journal of Books

Good
Reviewed by D. R. Meredith on Jun 29 2017

The Essex Serpent is a masterpiece of a novel that can be read on several different levels: a story of one woman’s determinism to be free of convention, a testimonial to feminism, a political statement, an exploration of one man’s faith and one woman’s denial of such faith.

Read Full Review of The Essex Serpent: A Novel | See more reviews from NY Journal of Books

NPR

Good
Reviewed by Annalisa Quinn on Jun 10 2017

At its very best moments, when it shows how love, death, and regeneration all go hand-in-hand, The Essex Serpent is so painfully lovely that it removes a bit of that padding, only just as much as we can bear.

Read Full Review of The Essex Serpent: A Novel | See more reviews from NPR