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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).
Customer ReviewsMost Helpful
By Midwesterner on 07-13-17
A Kind of 'Year in the Life of..' story.
This story is very character driven. Its mostly about what our characters were thinking about and what they were motivated by. And I will say that they are extremely interesting and likeable. Actually, our heroine wasn't my favorite character if I'm honest. The Essex Serpent is there through most of the book though!
I've read some comments about the narrator. Myself, I think she's a very talented narrator and enjoyed the listen very much. I did have to bump up the speed a bit. I think 'they' slow down the playback sometimes for some reason; excellent voices for all different characters. I will make the observation that perhaps one shouldn't go from a whisper to an actual shout unless doing a live reading. I believe a simulated shout is sufficient for audiobooks.
I enjoyed the book very much.
9 of 9 people found this review helpful
By Calliope on 11-12-17
There's so much to unpack -- it's terrific
Wow! This is a terrific book, but very dense and full of lushly written descriptions, which might not be everyone's style. I've tried three times to write a decent summary in a few sentences, but I can't. There's really so much to unpack from a story that takes place during 10 or 11 months in late 19th Century England. The character of love and friendship, the differences of reason and faith (“We both speak of illuminating the world, but we have different sources of light"), the limits and restrictions on women, the growth of science and medicine, and the Essex Serpent as a symbol of myth, medicine, temptation, sex, or a punishment for sinfulness. I also loved the characters, especially the women who were all great in their own ways. Cora is a woman after my own heart, with love to share and endless curiosity and wonder; looking to create her own path and find her own happiness:
"Sometimes I think I sold my soul, so that I could live as I must. Oh, I don’t mean without morals or conscience—I only mean with freedom to think the thoughts that come, to send them where I want them to go, not to let them run along tracks someone else set, leading only this way or that…"
8 of 8 people found this review helpful