The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry
Genres: Historical Fiction, Fiction
Maturity Level: 4+
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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.
The Essex Serpent was one of those books that was obviously trying to be “literature” and attempting to win awards, but I’m not sure it succeeded. Instead of feeling like beautiful prose, to me it came off as pretentious and contrived. I mean, it’s all right there in the description, isn’t it? “Two extraordinary people”. What’s so extraordinary about them?