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The Essex Serpent by [Perry, Sarah]
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The Essex Serpent Kindle Edition

3.7 out of 5 stars 263 customer reviews

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Length: 433 pages Word Wise: Enabled Enhanced Typesetting: Enabled
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‘The Essex Serpent is a novel to relish: a work of great intelligence and charm, by a hugely talented author’ Sarah Waters

‘Had Charles Dickens and Bram Stoker come together to write the great Victorian novel, I wonder if it would have surpassed The Essex Serpent? No way of knowing, but with only her second outing, Sarah Perry establishes herself as one of the finest fiction writers working in Britain today.’ John Burnside

‘A big, warm, generous novel that wears its considerable wisdom lightly, The Essex Serpent is an absolute pleasure from start to finish - I truly didn't want it to end.’ Melissa Harrison

‘The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry [is] a joyous and beguiling book that wrapped itself around me rather like its eponymous monster.’ Cathy Rentzenbrink

A blissful novel of unapologetic appetites, where desire and faith mingle on the marshes, but friendship is the miracle. Sarah Perry has the rare gift of committing the uncommittable to prose - that is to say: here is a writer who understands life.’ Jessie Burton

‘A book to make you want to be a better person.’ Justine Jordan, The Guardian

‘I loved this book. At once numinous, intimate and wise, The Essex Serpent is a marvellous 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

‘A sinuous historical novel by the genius that is Sarah Perry’ Lucy Mangan, Stylist

‘An historical novel with real depth ... Perry writes fantastically, and this deserves attention for the rest of the year.’ Steven Cooper, The Bookseller

‘One day this book will make a fine BBC period drama ... Perry is a wonderful descriptive writer with a remarkable talent for making the familiar strange ... Her accounts of open-heart surgery carried out half a century before antibiotics, or an autistic child questioning the nature of sin, or a soldier's wedding in the phthisic slums of Bethnal Green, snatch the breath in your throat. Perry bleeds light into darkness and back again with a mastery born of her deep professional acquaintance with the gothic tradition.’ Oliver Moody, Times

‘The Essex Serpent is a work of historical fiction, set in the 1890s, which, for originality, richness of prose and depth of characterisation is unlikely to be bettered this year ... a remarkable novel. Although Will and Cora provide the focal points for her story, Perry has packed The Essex Serpent with a rich array of equally rounded characters to hold our attention. The novel is full of vivid set pieces ... it is Perry's ability to conjure up a sense of entire lives unfolding before our eyes that is most impressive. Filled with wisdom about human behaviour and motivations, and written in a distinctive, stylish prose, The Essex Serpent is one of the most memorable historical novels of the past decade.’ Nick Rennison, Sunday Times

‘One for the holiday suitcase. A historical romance with a gothic twist ... expect to spot a copy on beach towels this summer.’ Vogue

‘An irresistible novel that taps the vein of Victorian gothic and British myth.’ Daily Telegraph

‘It's prompted comparisons to both Dickens and Bram Stoker and marries the former's abhorrence of injustice with the latter's genius for unsettling atmosphere ... Hardy-esque ... a rich and complex novel but also a deeply enjoyable read, with warm humanity at its core.’ Jeff Robson, iPaper

‘An irresistible novel ... Perry's Victoriana is the most fresh-feeling I can remember ... Her prose is often beautiful ... the tone is a masterstroke ... You feel the influences of Mary Shelley, Bram Stoker, Wilkie Collins, Charles Dickens and Hilary Mantel channelled by Perry in some sort of Victorian séance. This is the best new novel I've read in years. It's the kind of work that makes you alive to the strangeness of the world and of our history.’ Charlotte Runcie, Daily Telegraph

‘Engaging ... On the book's cover, John Burnside compares The Essex Serpent to Dickens and Stoker. But it was one of my favourite novels, Alasdair Gray's Poor Things (1992), that kept coming back to me ... Perry takes apart our preconceptions of prim Victorian mores with similar gusto ... The Essex Serpent is a historical novel with an entirely modern consciousness, and is every bit as gripping and unusual as its predecessor.’ Alex Preston, FT

‘The Essex Serpent is frightfully good.’ Susan Hill, Twitter

‘An intelligent, lushly written gothic yarn ... Reading it makes you want to hotfoot it to the Essex coast.’ Claire Allfree, Metro

‘Everything they're saying is true: sumptuous, beautiful, powerful, engrossing, brilliant.’ Nina Stibbe, Twitter

A lovely book ... it sets out unashamedly to lift the spirits ... The writing has a gorgeous lilt ... The method is itself Victorian - an omniscient narrator scattering sackfuls of sympathy - but the message never gets old: the world is poorer if we don't put ourselves in each other's place once in a while.’ Anthony Cummins, Spectator

‘Sarah Perry's new novel The Essex Serpent is a thing of beauty inside and out. I don't think I've ever mentioned a book's cover in a review before, but Peter Dyer's William Morris-inspired design is stunning, a tantalizing taste of the equally sumptuous prose that lies within ... When it comes to historical fiction, Perry's achieved the near impossible; she's created a novel and within it a world that seems to have sprung complete and fully formed directly from the period in question - a long lost fin-de-siècle Gothic classic - but her characters are as enticingly modern as they are of their period ... Perry also showcases the most beguiling evocations of landscape ... For only a second novel it's a stunning achievement, one for which I predict prize nominations galore, from the Wellcome to the Man Booker.’ Lucy Scholes, Independent online

A richly themed and exhilarating novel ... this poetically written story dramatises the clash between rationality and resurgent superstition, between desire, morality and the intellect, and the struggle of reformers to redress the poverty of late-Victorian society.’ Elizabeth Buchan, Daily Mail

‘Sarah Perry has written an exquisitely absorbing, old-fashioned page-turner peopled by memorable characters, particularly the magnificent, stubborn and wilful Cora. Perry also captures a society on the brink of a profound shift, uncomfortably reassessing its view of the world through the prism of scientific progress. The Essex Serpent is shot through with such a vivid, lively sense of the period that it reads like Charles Dickens at his most accessible and fans of Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell will also find much to love in this engaging, entertaining Gothic novel.’ Charlotte Heathcote, Daily Express

‘A novel of ideas, and flexes its muscles in addressing multiple concerns of the period ... The novel probes at both private emotion and public concerns, and is engrossing and immersive. The grime of London is only surpassed by the murk of Aldwinter. Cora makes for an indelible heroine: uncompromising, funny and smart, and not unlike Alma Whittaker in Elizabeth Gilbert's The Signature of All Things. There will also be whispers of Dickens or a gamut of 19th century novels of similar size and scale, but Perry's voice and story are her own. Her language is exquisite, her characterisation finely tuned. Based on The Essex Serpent and its predecessor, it's clear that Perry is a gifted writer of immense ability.’ Sinéad Gleeson, Irish Times

‘A Victorian-era gothic with a Dickensian focus on societal ills, Perry's second novel surprises in its wonderful freshness. There's a sense of Llareggub about close-knit Aldwinter, its flint church, historic oak and ribby shipwreck instantly present, while the tapestry of voices that results from the use of letters amplifies the Under Milk Wood echo. Perry's singular characters are drawn with a fondness that is both palpable and contagious, and the beautifully observed changing seasons permitted space to breathe, all making for pure pleasure.’ - Stephanie Cross, Observer

‘An eerie tale of science and superstition ... gothically good.’ - Eithne Farry, Sunday Express

A bewitching and luminous book about science, faith and different kinds of love.’ Anna Carey, Irish Times

Gem after gem after gem ... the book is a mosaic of perfectly chosen words ... very special.’ Marian Keyes

Wonderfully written, full of riches... Sarah Perry is a wonderful writer...imagine Lair Of The White Worm rewritten by Marilynne Robinson.’ Tom Holland

‘The result is a novel that somehow embodies the exhilaration and ecstasies - of body and mind - its characters stumble into, suggesting not just the ferment of its times but something of the ferment of our own. And, no less impressively, it exults in the possibility that inheres in the liminal spaces that its titular serpent inhabits - between land and sea, old and new, even life and death. Agile, unconventional, wonderfully weightless, it is a delight.’ The Australian

Confident, intelligent and original storytelling - I was seduced by the many charms of The Essex Serpent.’ Laline Paull, author of The Bees

‘I was completely enthralled - Tracy Chevalier, Good Housekeeping

Book Description

A sumptuously imagined novel of passion, ideas and friendship

Product details

  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • File Size: 1985 KB
  • Print Length: 433 pages
  • Publisher: Serpent's Tail; Main edition (27 May 2016)
  • Sold by: Amazon Media EU S.à r.l.
  • Language: English
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Enabled
  • Screen Reader: Supported
  • Enhanced Typesetting: Enabled
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars 263 customer reviews
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #317 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
"If you read only one book this Christmas," went the blurb, "make it this one!" So I did, and after all the hype, was disappointed. This is Perry's second published novel and her first, while critically acclaimed, didn't achieve the success currently enjoyed by this one. Cora Seaborne, widowed in the late 19th Century and thus freed from a loveless marriage, goes to Essex to pursue her love of fossils and decides to try and unearth the mythical Essex Serpent that the locals believe to have returned from the sea to plague the area. She also attracts the local Reverend. That's about it for plot. There's a chequerboard of unrequited loves going on in the background, but little else.

Usually I wouldn't mind a lack of action, and I do think Perry's writing style is unobtrusive and elegant - I didn't see evidence of the claims elsewhere that it is overwritten - but the characters didn't compel me. In fact, it felt very much like a modern sensibility was overlaid on the characters, and they have far more insight and awareness than was likely in a pre-Freudian age. Cora is mannish and feisty, and could stride straight into a 21st Century campus as a Professor of Geology. Her companion Martha is is a proto-feminist and determined socialist. Frances, Cora's son, is autistic, and the manly William Ransome's wife Stella is conveniently succumbing to consumption. Add to that the singular lack of historical colour and it was a book I could have put down and not picked up again. I did finish it, and it wasn't a painful read, but nor was it satisfying.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
A fantastic read. Interesting, engaging and so beautifully written. The sounds and sights of the period are wonderfully recreated on the pages. Such a welcome change from authors who clearly have researched a subject and then regurgitated the contents. Highly recommended.
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The evocation of the time and place is beautifully done. The characters are surprising but credible and the dialogue convincing. My problem is that, in effect, nothing happens. Or rather there are a large number of very dramatic events but these do not result in the kind of narrative that changes the characters or the reader's understanding. A lot happens and then it stops. Promising but ultimately unsatisfying.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
The book starts with several pages of cod-Dickens fine writing, so I put it away in irritation; but then I was on holiday and the alternative was staring a very long Murakami, so I returned to it. After all, Bleak House also starts with several pages of cod-Dickens fine writing. Probably first thoughts were best.

The origin of the book seems to lie in the author’s discovery that in the Nineteenth Century, contrary to the Victorian caricature, people made friends, had sex, disagreed on matters of philosophy and politics and generally behaved as people always do. I think we already knew this. So we have characters sturdily representing different positions: the churchman, the freethinker, the liberal philanthropist, the socialist. There are various children, all with carefully defined characteristics, as if they had their positions on the backs of their shirts like football players. And since it is a novel of Victorian times we have a woman dying of consumption. And over all we have the Serpent itself, which may or may not exist but which acts as a great big metaphor as well as inciting the characters to behave characteristically.

The trouble is that we don’t believe for a moment in them, we don’t believe in the positions that they take and we don’t believe that the story is taking place in the 1890s. Central to the book is the conflict between one character’s immovable Christian faith and the free thinking of another. But the faith doesn’t have any substance to it. We are told that the man is a Christian but not what sort; there is nothing about how he carries on his life as a priest. He has a church, where we are told that he recites collects and delivers sermons. It’s all very thin. Likewise, the free thinker has absolutely no doubts about her atheism.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Just couldn't wade through it. A typical MFA novel, carefully referencing smells and textures as well as imagery and planting a meticulous observation or a clever simile on every page, just as creative writing classes teach, but all of it drowning in ungainly prose, unengaging characters and negligible story momentum.
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Although no date is ever given in this book we can safely say that it takes place in the first half of the 1890s, as the earthquake mentioned taking place in Essex was in 1884, and this story takes place some years later. The title of this novel is taken from an Essex legend, and although you may think that this could be a book with supernatural shenanigans taking place I should warn you that this is not so.

Here we meet Cora Seaborne, as a doctor goes to see her after the death of her bullying husband, who he knew and had offered to treat. We soon see that this doctor, a brilliant and capable surgeon is in love with Cora, who now lives with her son who is somewhere on the autism scale, and her companion. Thus we get to start to see Cora and her circle of friends, and what they each do, and how they are predisposed to each other. But then this circle is enlarged as Mrs Seaborne goes to Colchester to take in some air and start to look for dinosaur bones. As she hears of the Essex Serpent so she makes friends with a vicar and his family in a parish near the water.

The actual story we have then is slightly strange as it wanders around over a year, and we see how people react to certain things and how different interactions can cause certain feelings to arise. Thus we have jealousy, anger, romance and passion taking place, along with social and personal consciences and their growth. With the local villagers afraid of the supposed serpent that comes on land to take people and animals we can see the juxtaposition between newer more rational and scientific thought fighting old fears and superstition. But is there really a serpent, and if so what is it?
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