The Essex Serpent

The Essex Serpent

Book - 2016
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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. Told with exquisite grace and intelligence, this novel is most of all a celebration of love, and the many different guises it can take.
Publisher: London :, Serpent's Tail,, 2016
Description: 416 pages ; 23 cm
ISBN: 9781781255445
Branch Call Number: Perr
Additional Contributors: Perry, Sarah, 1979- Essex serpent


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Mar 18, 2021

I usually don't write reviews on books I did not finish reading as that seems unfair. However I am writing this because I feel the description of the book does not match the 82 pages that I read. The book description says this is a story about a widow and a vicar investigating the a murder and it's ties to a local serpent legend. To me, this sounded like an exciting story, a murder mystery with a bit of fantasy. So, after reading this description and seeing the many 4-5 star review I was all in. The prologue opens up with some excitement but after that, this book was a slow moving exploration of loss and relationships. While stories of this sort can be really good, this does not match the book description. The writing is flowery with paragraph to page long sentences containing information useful and not. For me, if I am going to read a book heavy on flowery description of every item viewed during each of the many walks the main characters take, it also needs to contain some story content that moves the story forward and leads the reader to want to know what happens next. This book did not hold my attention so I moved on.

Jun 13, 2020

Had high hopes but turned out to be a real slog and huge disappointment. Story meanders on and on and on. You never learn enough about any of the characters, and are left knowing the least about the most interesting and likeable ones. Lots of beguiling hints and ideas but the author did not commit to any of them.

May 28, 2020

First book in years I couldn't get through. Just couldn't feel or engage with the characters. Slow, confusing, excessive word laden writing that didn't seem to advance the story. I kept falling asleep as I read it... so its good for that I suppose!

Jul 17, 2019

This is a great summer read. Engaging story, compelling characters. A vacation read while still staying smart and written.

Jul 05, 2019

4 stars. This book came to my attention as it was a Richard and Judy's (UK) Book Club selection for Summer 2017. It's a historical fiction book and a very interesting read. At the end of the 1800's. there was a belief in a small Essex village that the Essex Serpent, long believed to exist, similar to the Loch Ness monster, was alive and menacing the village. Cora Seaborne is a young widow of an abusive husband and she and her son Francis and his nanny Martha arrive in the small coastal village. Cora is an amateur naturalist and is intrigued with the stories of the Essex Serpent and dreams of discovering it. She meets the local parson William Ransome and becomes involved with him and his family. The locals get themselves into a frenzy of fear with rumours of the monster causing them to change the way they do things. It is hard to distill the many different plots and relationships in this book into a few lines, but I did enjoy this book very much and found it a very interesting read.

Apr 26, 2019

had to return early due to person waiting - take back out as soon as possible.

Dec 23, 2018

Liked the story line and characters. Left me wanting a follow up story but that is probably better that way.

Sep 26, 2018

From Di

robertafsmith Apr 17, 2018

Roberta's pick: This is a deliciously convoluted read that I thoroughly enjoyed. Friendship and all it's various nuances underlie this read. That and the fine, blurred line between friendship and love. All this set at a time when superstition pits itself against the logic of science.

Apr 06, 2018

When the reviews of a book are extremely good, I am now very careful and tend not to believe them. In this case, I was partially right. This story has been compared to the works of Wilkie Collins or Mary Shelley, and I personally don't agree: the style is very different, in a way more 'modern'. However, The Essex Serpent is certainly a great book and I enjoyed reading it. The first chapters are a bit slow, but at least start with some good news: the death of an abusive husband. That event finally allows his widow - smart, independent, vulnerable Cora - to start living the life she wants. She moves from London to a small village in Essex with her maid/friend Martha and her autistic son Francis. There, she is introduced to a local legend - a monstrous creature come back from a medieval past to wreak havoc on a small coast village - and to Will Ransome (the vicar) and his family. Cora is a naturalist - or tries to be - doesn't care about appearances, and manages to make almost everybody like her. Her husband's doctor is in love with her; the vicar befriends her immediately and his family adores her. But enough of the story, I don't want to spoil it. What I liked in the plot is the presence of several themes that intertwine beautifully and are still relevant today. For example, how does Cora not understand the dark nature of her husband before marrying him? Why does she come to think that being trapped in a miserable marriage is natural or acceptable? True, to obtain a divorce was almost impossible, especially if the husband didn't leave certain marks on his wife's body (see Heathcliff's treatment of Isabella in Wuthering Heights), but the point is that still today women marry abusive men, preferring - it seems to me - a life of misery at their hands rather than a life of independence and freedom without them. There are also other themes, beside the battered wife one: the treatment of children with autism; the conflict between duty and desire; the effect of illness on one's mind; the persistence of superstition and ignorance. The Essex Serpent is a book worth reading, full of background information about the housing crisis in London, the development of surgery, the life style in the countryside as opposed to the city, the spreading of Marxist ideas... Do not expect a Victorian book, but appreciate and enjoy the fact that the author did an excellent job of researching and reading the Victorian age before writing a great story.

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IndyPL_JosephL Dec 20, 2018

IndyPL_JosephL thinks this title is suitable for 18 years and over


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SPL_Brittany Oct 09, 2017

Set in the late Victorian era, recent widow Cora Seaborne leaves London with her son Francis, and loyal companion Martha and journeys to Aldwinter, a small village in Essex, where a legendary fearsome creature called the Essex Serpent has been sighted. Cora, who is more interested in the study of nature as an amateur naturalist, would rather be tramping about the countryside free from the strictures of society and the trappings of her gender, is determined to find proof of this creature. Through mutual acquaintances, she is introduced to the Ransome family - William the local reverend, his devoted yet sickly wife Stella and their three children. While Cora looks for scientific reasoning for the serpent, William dismisses it as superstition and a deviation from true faith. Cora and Will’s friendship is both forged and exasperated by their differing opinions as they can agree on absolutely nothing, yet both are drawn toward the other. Their friendship is threatened with the arrival of Cora’s friend Luke Garrett a skilled surgeon who carries a not-so-secret torch for Cora. In the end, a fatal illness, a knife-wielding maniac, and a fated union with the Essex Serpent will dictate the happiness of these characters.

A perfect time of the year to sit back and enjoy transporting to a time in England where the belief in mythical creatures and modern science coexisted side by side. Where Londoners traveled by tube and horse drawn carriages, used both electricity and candlelight, and experimented with modern medicine. Perry writes a novel filled with beautiful prose that is atmospheric and a touch gothic, filled with wonderfully drawn characters who offer social commentary on the debate between science and religion, social issues in London, as well as examining the varied nature of love through each of the characters who orbit around Cora. Awarded British Book of the Year and gathering increasing attention, a wonderful read that will delight readers of literary and historical fiction as well as providing plenty of discussion for book clubs.


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