London 1893: When Cora Seaborne and her son Francis reach Essex, rumours spread from further up the estuary 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 is enthralled, convinced that it may be a previously undiscovered species.
As she sets out on its trail she meets William Ransome, Aldwinter's vicar. They find themselves inexorably drawn together and torn apart, eventually changing each other's lives in ways entirely unexpected.
©2016 Sarah Perry (P)2016 W.F. Howes Ltd
"One of the most memorable historical novels of the past decade." (Sunday Times)
"The Essex Serpent is a novel to relish: a work of great intelligence and charm, by a hugely talented author." (Sarah Waters)
Beautifully written, with fully fledged characters, a wholly believable plot and the perfect narrator, makes this book stand head and shoulders above the crowd. Sarah Perry has a gift, a special gift that means she really can paint pictures, induce smells, bring forth the tactile nature of her novels like few others can. I just loved it.
Bookworm, librarian, chocaholic. Give me a good book, a bar of chocolate and a glass of fine wine and I'm a happy lady.
This book had a lot to live up to after months of hype and excellent critical reviews and for me it definitely was a treat. It reminded me somewhat of a Gothic novel, full of surprising twists,suspense and implied horror. The female characters were intriguing individuals. Some of them were women ahead of their time, striving to make a mark in a male-dominated society and, for various reasons, trying to avoid being shackled to men and the commitments of motherhood. And yet they are pursued by men, despite their unconventional interests in science, fossil-hunting, social reform, politics, education and female sexuality. Other female characters are more conventional, caught up in the roles of motherhood and domestic management. The male characters are caught up in a web of careers, class, religion, progress in medicine and unrequited love. Added to this are a twists of repressed sexuality, autism and the suppression of attraction between a vicar and a widow who share interests and a common love/admiration for the vicar's Tubercular wife.The Essex landscape and customs are beautifully described as is the terror that spreads throughout a country community when a mythic beast known as The Essex Serpent is thought to have returned to the vicinity, heralded by an unexplained death.The story moves slowly from time to time but the quality of the story, the details of the plot and the very capable narration make up for this. Well worth trying if you enjoy complex historical novels.
Writer and audiobook reviewer.
This is an excellent book crammed with characters, history, myth, relationships and nineteenth century concerns from scientific discoveries to poverty and marriage. The sense of place in Essex in which the terrifying serpent does or doesn't live is beautifully created as are the contrasts between London city and the Marshes; the relationship between the widow Cora Seaborne (blissfully released by the death of her unpleasant husband) and William Ransome Vicar of Aldwinter is subtly developed; and the background of Cora's passion for bones and fossils and discovery always interesting.
But for me this didn't work as an audiobook and that's not the fault of the author or entirely of the narrator. The difficulty I found was that the story is so dense with ideas, incident, character, description, thoughts, historical themes and so on that listening to it is too fast, even confusing. I needed to flick back and re-read a page; dialogue can be read quickly, but the passages dense with ideas need to be read slowly and thought about. Sarah Perry constantly challenges the reader as well as the characters and that requires thinking and reading at my own pace. The narration is accomplished as it is a very complex work with many 'voices', but I found some of the rural Essex characters mere caricatures of what sounded like stereotypical exaggerated West Country, which just clogged up the story already brimful of other demands on the listener.
Will read anything within reason.
This is a marvellous book where every character fascinates and holds an equal place in the story. The men and women here are driven by intellectual ambition, love and strong moral ethics, be they religion, socialism, or the desire to drive things forward by occasionally ruthless means. This evokes the time when people were striving to change the old order and build a better future (rather than dismantling it), and their mistakes and blunders make a compelling tale.
Rural Essex is a wonderful backdrop and the author conveys it as a unique and distinctive estuary landscape with its own distinct culture rather than being an extension of London's urban sprawl.
The narrator does a magnificent job with some difficult material. This is a book that is very difficult to categorise and describe but tremendously easy to savour and enjoy.
Let's be honest, this book has been hyped up to the eyeballs. It's a very nature novel to do with love in its many guises and the serpent behind them! Cora, the main character is marvellously drawn. But it didn't blow me away. A rather tortuous narrative arc with more attention given to the (often exquisite) phrasing. So, one to perhaps savour than love. The narrator is marvellous btw!
A great novel. I was expecting worthy but a bit grim but actually it was beautifully written and life affirming. Highly recommended.
disappointed to find its just a romance, not a 'mystery'. Well written and the story's ok, but the reader is bad - doesn't know what half the words mean and gives the wrong intonation to sentences, destroying the effort put into the arrangement of word's by the author.
This is an atmopsheric and haunting story read beautifully by the narrator. I am so glad that I listened to this book which is full of interesting and believable characters and intelligently written.
The ending is not what the reader expects but somehow makes this a very rounded and believable story rather than having a convenient and predicatable typical end.
I enjoyed his book very much and would recommend it thoroughly
Comedian and happy person.
Overall I liked it and might recommend it to specific people but it's a little clinical in places and a few too many characters that made it hard to see straight off the bat who the story would follow.
I have thoroughly enjoyed this. The story is gentle yet gripping, the descriptions fascinating. I liked that the main character was a female amateur paleontologist. The setting was very evocative with its mists and marshes. The Victorian detail felt real and well researched. very much recommended.
"Good Story Let Down by Poor Performance"
This is a general plea to the producers and narrators of audiobooks: a book is not a screenplay, and reading a book is not an enactment of a play. So why, oh why, must narrators insist on acting out a book? Juanita McMahon has a lovely reading voice: articulate, gentle and almost perfect. But what possesses her to portray every male character as a blustering buffoon or every female one a simpering simpleton, I do not know. It ruins the book. We are not children in need of the acting out of stories (for that I turn to the theatre or to television). We simple want a story beautifully told. I'm only half-way through the book and I am truly interested in the story but I don't think I can carry on. This is the third audio book in a row where I've encountered this problem. So I beg you, fine ladies and gentlemen of audio-land, please stop.
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