THE ESSEX SERPENT is hard to resist; it has a beautiful cover that, combined with the title, promises high Victorian Gothic wonderfulness. It first winked at me from those tempting airport bookshelves, but it was a large format paperback and I was headed on a cycling holiday, so there it stayed. Then just before Christmas the nice people at NetGalley emailed me and asked if I would like to read it, YES PLEASE!, I replied.
The novel opens just as our heroine, Cora Seaborne is widowed. Don’t fret, her husband was a sadistic bully and now she is free to live life as she wants. Everybody loves Cora; Luke Garrett, the doctor who attended her husband’s death bed is hopelessly in love with her. As is Martha, whose job it is to look after Francis, Cora’s autistic son. Francis is the only one who seems not to love her. Cora is beautiful, as heroines must be, but eschews smart and fashionable society in favour of pursuing her interest in fossils. It is this interest that takes her to Essex, still shaken by a recent earthquake. Aldwinter is village on the coastal marshes of the Blackwater, mistily remote and prone to superstition. William Ransome is its vicar, trying to allay fears that the Essex Serpent, last seen in 1669, has reappeared.
Love, loss, identity, ambition, belief; all these themes thread through the promised gothic wonder. At times the book seems to be set in modern times, newspaper reports make reference to the war in Afghanistan and a side plot takes us on a meander through the London housing crisis. An East Anglian girl at heart I loved the setting on the low-lying Essex coast but most of all I loved tension surrounding all those who love Cora and, of course, the tension of whether or not the serpent will eat them all up.
THE ESSEX SERPENT by Sarah Perry
Published by Serents Tail Books
Hardback £14.99, Kindle 99p
DISCLAIMER: I was sent a review copy via NetGalley in return for an honest review.
This year I am joining in the British Book Challenge over at TALES OF YESTERDAY, click here if you’d like to join in the fun.