The Essex Serpent

  • by Sarah Perry
  • Narrated by Juanita McMahon
  • 14 hrs and 43 mins
  • Unabridged Audiobook

Publisher's Summary

Costa Book Award Finalist and the Waterstones (UK) Book of the Year 2016
An exquisitely talented young British author makes her American debut with this rapturously acclaimed historical novel, set in late 19th-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 19, 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 11-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).

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What the Critics Say

"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)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful

Unbearable Narrator

What disappointed you about The Essex Serpent?

I've heard great things about this book, but unfortunately the narration is so overripe and just plain hammy that I found it impossible to concentrate on the story. I've listened to many, many audiobooks over the years and there have been good readers and bad, but never one that made me want to throw my iPhone at the wall in frustration.


What was most disappointing about Sarah Perry’s story?

Don't know, due to inability to focus on anything but the ridiculous overacting.


How could the performance have been better?

By not existing in the first place.


What character would you cut from The Essex Serpent?

I'll have to get back to you after I've read the print version.


Any additional comments?

Why is this so hard?

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- ACB

Tedious and poorly narrated

I wish I had read the reviews before listening to this. I can't remember the last time I was so happy to come to the end of an audiobook. Yes, I did finish it, but only because I almost without exception finish books. The story was dull, repetitive, and not involving. I was pleased when misfortune befell one of the characters. At least something happened. And what's up with the narration? I think I recall a reference to the speech of the main character, but the narrator makes both her and her son sound feeble-minded. At times it seemed like she was applying a voice she had used for one character to the speech of another. I've skipped other audiobooks because of the narrator, reading the book instead. In this case, I'm sorry I did not skip both.
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- Christopher

Book Details

  • Release Date: 06-06-2017
  • Publisher: Harper Audio