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The Essex Serpent: A Novel

The Essex Serpent: A Novel

Scris de Sarah Perry

Povestit de Juanita McMahon


The Essex Serpent: A Novel

Scris de Sarah Perry

Povestit de Juanita McMahon

evaluări:
4/5 (95 evaluări)
Lungime:
14 hours
Lansat:
Jun 6, 2017
ISBN:
9780062676634
Format:
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Descriere

Costa Book Award Finalist and the Waterstones (UK) Book of the Year 2016

"I loved this book. At once numinous, intimate and wise, The Essex Serpent is a marvelous 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, author of H is for Hawk

An exquisitely talented young British author makes her American debut with this rapturously acclaimed historical novel, set in late nineteenth-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 nineteen, 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 eleven-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).

Lansat:
Jun 6, 2017
ISBN:
9780062676634
Format:
Carte audio

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Despre autor

Sarah Perry is the internationally bestselling author of The Essex Serpent and After Me Comes the Flood. She lives in England.

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  • (3/5)
    Many clever parallel structures; promisingly good writing; alas, something condescending about hanging so many potentially rich themes on such a tired structure as interlocking love triangles. Also loses points for shallowness of religion and mere veneer of the clash that followed the development of the theory of evolution, though the final line hints that the author may have had a more nuanced understanding of at least the first of these than appears in the published version. Also possessed of unfortunately token sexualities, socialisms, and neurologies; making a character aspie or lesbian doesn't have meaning without relevance and understanding (e.g., people who have never wanted physical contact don't suddenly get cuddly with the first person who doesn't seem to be working to share their interests).Regains some ground upon the revelation of what the Serpent is, then falls down again in that the tone of the book up to that point elucidates everything, but the potential symbolism in the scene is completely unexplored, even in subsequent character behavior.
  • (4/5)
    I was a little apprehensive about reading this because the plaudits it gained when published last year and its subsequent popularity made me suspect that it would disappoint. Such thoughts were groundless - within a few pages I was engrossed in this page-turner set in the 1890s. I should have known that Perry was a promising writer since I read her debut novel After Me Comes The Flood, which was memorably atmospheric if rather more elliptical.The central characters of this book are Cora Seaborne, a young and independent-minded woman who is liberated by the death of her husband, and seeks an outlet in scientific research, inspired by the naturalist Mary Anning. The other is Will Ransome, a vicar whose parish on the Essex coast becomes obsessed with the idea that a fearsome sea monster is lurking in the salt marshes, who is a man of both strong faith and intelligence. The other characters are equally intriguing - Cora's friend Luke ("the Imp") is a talented surgeon, her companion Martha is a socialist determined to work to help improve the housing of London's poor, and Will's wife Stella whose mind is influenced by her tuberculosis and who develops strange obsessions of her own. Perry's grasp of historical detail and the ideas behind these characters is impressive, and the book is a pleasure to read.
  • (3/5)
    The writing is excellent, but the story never really goes anywhere.
  • (3/5)
    Not sure what all the fuss was about for this novel. For me it was a "take it or leave it" read, will not stay with me for long, and was way too long. Nothing new in the type of novel - throw back to old times character driven novels/manners of the era - and since I did't finds the characters well drawn out, I'd rather go back and read Austen and Bronte again!
  • (3/5)
    Yeah it combines the sensibilities of a Victorian novel with a modern one, but I'm not sure that worked for me. The spunky nonconformist protagonist is kind of a cliche nowadays, and while it starts out looking as though she's going to be doing research on fossils and so on, that fizzles out. The author really likes writing lyrical descriptions of moonlight, the ocean, seasons changing.... meh. Some of the characters and emotions felt true, others felt very wrong. There are interesting social themes, like income inequality and reform, and science versus religion but I was ultimately disappointed. Too bad, this could have been just my kind of thing, but it's no French Lieutenant's Woman or Possession.
  • (3/5)
    A well-written book, with well-plotted layers and subtext. Alas, it’s not cohesive enough, maybe owing to the omnipresent head-hopping style. Occasionally, I forgot I was reading a book set in 1893. It’s worse fault, though, is the likely error of the marketing department. The blurb promises one thing, the book another. Readers expect a developing romance wrapped around a mystery. The ‘Serpent’ of the title is a creature not so much myth as misunderstood. It is often figurative, a metaphor, subtext…which might be fine if it did not lead readers to believe otherwise. As for the romance, I had patience for that until around 60 pages from the end when my emotions turned to exasperation and disgust. I so wanted to say I loved this book but have to settle for liking it. The true heroine of the book reads, to me, as Stella and that’s a stretch. The writer may tell the story he or she wants, of course, and it’s true that humans are imperfect. Again, I sense that the novel’s marketing leads one to expect something it’s not and so does the author and novel no favours. This is not a mystery, and not a romance. It’s a set of characters and a slice of their shared histories.
  • (5/5)
    Entirely superior. There's a tremendous set piece early on in this book where two of the key characters meet for the first time without knowing each other and wrestle a sheep out of a muddy hole. It's a superb piece of writing, so I stopped and read it again out loud to my wife. Everything else here is bloody marvelous also.

    It seems unusual to read a book with so much kindness in it. Love may be asymmetric or even unwelcome, but compassion, wonder and kindness are boundless. The Essex Serpent has my highest possible recommendation.
  • (5/5)
    A very interesting and well-written book which weaves together several themes on how we are human. The main protagonist, Cora, is widowed early in the story and her experience of (socially forbidden) freedom and her own strength in this victorian setting is a driver of a generally plot-less but intriguing story about a love-hate-relationship with Will, a man of the church in a local rural town in Essex. The main characters are in a sense allegories of aspects of human life where Cora represents science and Will religion. And other characters are adding to these clashing movements of the time-period, e.g. superstition (Cracknell), esoteric faith (Stella), ritual (Francis) and so forth. So in some respects these representations become a little stylised, and I guess it’s a matter of personal taste if the symbolism of these forces weighs too heavy on the story. It worked for me and added a second layer of understanding of the culturally opposing forces of the time.I also liked the change of PoV which makes the reading experience very dynamic.
  • (4/5)
    I'm reviewing The Essex Serpent. Here are my thoughts:

    ^^ When Cora Seaborne's cruel husband dies and she finds herself widowed it's, quite frankly, a relief for her. Now she can truly start to discover herself away from his restrictions, and of course of those forced upon her by society just because she is a woman living in Victorian times. With this newfound freedom she begins to enjoy life , with her son and close friend Martha. This takes her from London to a Colchester village where restless locals are shrouded with uneasy stories of a huge sea creature with wings.

    ^^ Keen to unearth the truth about this Essex Serpent, she meets the locals and finds herself taken by William Ransome, the local vicar, of whom she expected to dislike. Both are intrigued with each other and find a friendship they would not have believed possible, had it not been for The Essex Serpent bringing them together.

    ^^ Although this took quite a while for me to get into, I realised this is not just a story based on the myth and mayhem of The Essex Serpent, but one of life in the 1800s, family, friendship, and Victorian values. It had me pondering on how the vicar never lost his faith, despite many of his congregation doubting theirs, and how the Essex serpent was to blame for a lot of goings on around them -- whether truth or fiction.

    ^^ In Cora's case, it' s a story of finding herself in a world where society expects certain behaviour from a woman, especially a well-to-do woman that's recently become a widow. I love how she really loosened up, and broke away from society's restrictions to be who she wanted to be, even if it meant looking and acting less ladylike than she should. Her self-discovery was a treat to hear unfold.

    ^^ Incidentally, I listened to this story, but also bought the paperback, as I loved the beautiful book cover with the sparkling green serpent on the front. Fickle I know, but it's a beautiful keeper.

    ^^ I've given this 4 stars, but if I'm honest, I'd rather go down a little, so 3.5 stars seems more appropriate. Three's just not enough, and a full on four, well... It wasn't my favourite read, and I didn't dislike it either. However, I did find it was extremely well-written and the way the story developed did keep me reading until the end.

    Overall: Set in Victorian times where t he role of a woman was very different to what it is today, this slow starter has so many hidden gems just waiting to unfold. I'd say this is an elegantly written historical fiction tale - shrouded in mystery, Victorian values and family drama.

  • (4/5)
    Not surprised this was Waterstones book of the year. Like a modern rendition of a Hardy novel a la French Lieutenant’s Woman.Merry Widow Cora sojourns in Essex, delighting in her freedom & with a wish to discover new fossils. And here she meets happily married William Ransome, & the two develop a deep friendship full of disagreements. And then there is her companion, Martha, on a mission for social reform, and a gifted surgeon in love with Cora.Beautifully written with well-rendered characters, strange and complex, with an amazing sense of place and time.
  • (5/5)
    ‘’Come tomorrow, if you like, to the grave. I said I’d go alone, but perhaps that’s the point; perhaps we are always alone, no matter the company we keep.’’ This novel is as complex, as beautiful and mesmerizing as its cover. It is astonishing, an exciting, majestic literary journey. It deserves all the recognition it gets and then some. It is plain and simple one of the most beautiful, unique novels I’ve ever read. There will be no ‘’but’’ or ‘’or’’ in my review. ‘The Essex Serpent’ is perfection…Cora Seaborne- a highly symbolic surname- is a young widow with an interest- nay, an adoration- in science and in the workings of nature. She cannot stand anything she considers as superstition but is always keen to learn. Prompted by a friendly couple, she travels to the parish of Aldwinter to experience the frenzy that has come with the rumors of an appearance by the Essex Serpent, a devilish Loch Ness-like monster that has returned after almost 200 years. Her meeting with Will Ransome, the local vicar, will bring forth all kinds of debates between them, all kinds of contradictions between the world we think we know and the one we aren’t able to see.Perry focuses on three issues. The contrast between Science and Religion. She doesn’t take sides, a token of how skillful she is. She respects both and lets the reader decide. Then, we have the Victorians’ obsession with everything that has to do with the supernatural and the occult and the misunderstood position of the women in the society of the era. She stresses that not all women were victims of the restrictions and the norms, but they had to face disbelief, scorn and accusations as the price for their freedom. For Cora, freedom comes through the death of her husband, a man as tyrannical as he was cold, whose personality can be traced in Francis, Cora’s son, who is an intriguing child, but highly unlikeable.‘’Girls and boys come out to play...The moon does shine as bright as day.’’ The children form a main point of view in the book. Joanna, Naomi, Francis see the world in their own eyes. They experience the phenomena in personal ways which couldn’t be more different and diverse and the interpretation sets quite a few things in motion. The omens in the community are numerous. People falling victims of a strange illness, young girls experience a fit of unusually lively laughter, the moon is full and red, the crops are failing, the residents sprain their ankles all too easily. The children believe in the signs and try to protect the world from changing into something they don't wish to know.‘’Lighten our darkness, we beseech thee, O Lord; and by thy great mercy defend us from all perils.’’ Does the serpent exist? The smell is foul, the sounds otherworldly, the feeling of uneasiness and restlessness has been plaguing the community. Each resident finds the chance to blame everyone else but themselves and stories from the past haven’t been forgotten. Perhaps, the serpent stands as a symbol for the community’s narrow-mindedness and fear of progress.. Their dusty lives constantly influence the young ones and when Cora or Luke try to put some sense into their heads, they’re scorned and attacked. These are people who fear darkness but in truth are in love with it. They don't want it to go away because it provides them with an excuse to live.‘’We both speak of illuminating the world, but we have different sources of light, you and I.’’ Cora and Will are worlds apart, at first glance. Cora is the naturalist, the science lover, the one who looks at nature and sees causes and effects. Will sees the divine presence, the Hand of God released from medieval superstitions. They argue. They disagree and grow closer, their banter is full of well-drawn arguments (and sexual tension…) but they respect each other’s views even if they’re too proud to admit it. They are against all prejudices, religious and social, but deep down they’re helpless. They try to shed their skin and come to terms with the other’s reality, but this requires a kind of sacrifice they’re not willing to commit. And they’re trapped in a world where the mob cannot be freed by their fears and nightly terrors.‘’There was a crooked man’’, he said, ‘’who walked a crooked mile.’’ Same thing happens with Luke whose appearance makes people suspicious of his intentions. He is a doctor, highly skilled, highly intelligent, whose offers are denied out of terror. He speaks outright and faces adversity and hostility from minds that are buried in the mud where the Serpent resides. Luke is the most fascinating character along with Cora. Will, on the other hand, well...not so much…Will is a coward. He denies his moments of clarity and is afraid of his feelings. Cora makes him a complete, rounded character. When he’s alone, he becomes a shadow and yet, he cannot see it or refuse to do so. Cora shakes his mundane life, but he prefers mediocrity. His wife, Stella is a pathetic woman. A figure created out of boredom, docility and piousness in the extreme. Martha, Cora’s maid, is a shrew in heh most negative way possible. She’s full of anger for everything and everyone, she hates everyone’s existence and believes she has to constantly speak her mind (which is usually wrong) ad interfere in Cora’s life in a presumptuous, rude, vulgar manner. Stella and Martha required a lot of patience from me in order to avoid skipping their pages…I don’t need to stress how exceptional Perry’s writing is. Poetic, lyrical, dark, Gothic. There is stream of consciousness at times, there are diary entries, correspondence. There are passages with descriptions that seemed to have jumped straight out of a tale by Poe. The language may remind you of the Bronte sisters. There are bloody images- with a Viking blood eagle reference- and there is also a hymn to the beauty of the foreboding nature. Rooks and ruins, waves and the moon. The dialogue is perfection, the moments when Perry describes the actions and the state of mind of our main characters simultaneously contain some of the most exquisite pieces of writing I’ve recently found in a novel (and I have found a plethora…). It gives an atmosphere of darkness, an eerie feeling that something is about to happen. One of our characters will cross a personal limit or a new wound will occur.. Who knows...Perry definitely knows how to create anticipation and this is one of the most important aspects in Gothic Fiction, particularly. The Author’s Notes contain a ton of fascinating suggestive reads and they are jewels in themselves.For me, this book is as close to perfect as it can get. Let yourself wonder in a dark coastal town and look the serpent in the eye...
  • (5/5)
    Gorgeous prose, compelling characters with interesting and complex relationships, and a bit of a mystery thrown in made this an absolute winner for me. Likely to be on my list of favorites for 2018.
  • (3/5)
    Cora Seaborne, recently widowed from a domineering, but wealthy, husband, decides to go fossil-hunting in Essex, located on the southeastern coast of England. She is accompanied by Francis, her autistic-spectrum disordered son, and Martha, her friend and son's governess. While in Essex, she hears reports of sightings of a sea-faring serpent and decides to investigate. Are these sightings evidence of a prehistoric creature which escaped mass extinction or figments of people's imagination?The novel was less about the serpent, which is used more as a metaphor, and more about the friendships developed in this book. The novel's atmosphere remind me of one of Wilkie Collin's novels; the relationships between the primary characters, Edith Wharton. An enjoyable read for these reasons only, less for the Essex serpent.
  • (4/5)
    What happens when things aren't quite as they appear to be in a time long ago when superstition and folk tales were just two ways of keeping the past alive? The cautionary tale of the Essex Serpent was meant to frighten and show that you cannot know what lurks in the shallow water of the nearby river. But is it real? Or just a tale?"The Essex Serpent" begins with a young man, seriously in his cups, and his unwise decision to swim in the night in the cold river. He soon realizes that he is not alone. Is it his imagination or the oily cold serpents he feels brushing up against him. Meanwhile, Cora is suffering her own kind of fear and unhappiness - her marriage to an older man is stifling and his dominance over her, meant by him to show care, is wearing her down. Soon she is free to live the life she has dreamed of and off she goes to the small town of Essex where she meets a man of cloth and a kindred spirit in the pursuit of the truth about this untimely and gruesome death.Written in a style evocative of the setting of the story in Victorian England, this is whatdunnit that is compelling and intriguing. Through it all one has to wonder if the beast exists at all. Highly recommended for readers of Victorian-era historical fiction and lovers of beasties and things that lurk in the deep.
  • (4/5)
    Cora, recently widowed, ultimately feels relief to be free of her controlling husband. She moves from late 1800's London to the Essex countryside with her nanny/companion Martha and somewhat eccentric son Francis. There, she is greeted by tales of the mythical Essex Serpent, who reportedly makes an appearance now and again and is blamed for a few unanswered deaths over the years. Cora is not a traditional London widow. For the most part, she shuns London society in favor of exploring nature and expanding her knowledge base, and is not afraid to get muddy doing so. The tale of the Essex Serpent intrigues her, and she is anxious to discover its origin, wondering if it may possibly be some previously undiscovered species. In the meantime, she is introduced to the Ransome family: William (the town vicar), his delicate but delightful wife Stella, and their children. Though they often don't agree, Cora and William form a special friendship, while at the same time, Cora's London doctor friend Luke makes several bids for her affections, competing with Will for her attention. Though the writing of this novel is quite lovely and atmospheric, the pace of the story is rather slow. I found that it dragged and had I not been listening on audio, it may have taken me quite a bit longer to finish. In parts it reminded me of Tracy Chevalier's Remarkable Creatures, and indeed, there were several references to paleontologist Mary Anning in this story also. Overall, the pace was just a little too slow for me, and I found the ending unfulfilling as well, resulting in this being just an "okay" read.
  • (4/5)
    This book starts with an interesting cast if a little heavily weighted toward usual-unusuals with it's abused wife, autistic boy, lesbian(well bisexual) companion, obsessed physician and throws them at a seemingly perfectly happy family in a rectory going through a spot of trouble in the community. Really, all the characters and the first 1/2 of the book are totally charming and then it all goes way melodramatic and the carefully nurtured miasma caused by the idea of the serpent is bashed away. It does pull itself back together, but it has gone too far.
  • (3/5)
    This is a modern Victorian novel, and it's full of all the things you'd expect from a Victorian novel: eccentric rich people, a man who will never admit how much he loves a woman, dramatic countrysides, amateur scientists, a vicar conflicted over his virtue, a beautiful woman dying of tuberculosis, superstitious working-class people... I thoroughly enjoyed reading the book, but at the end, I felt unsatisfied. The characters and the atmosphere are all enjoyable, but in the end, I'm not sure what the point of all of it was.
  • (4/5)
    Another one I very much liked parts of, but overall found unsatisfying, with some terribly frustrating characters.
  • (4/5)
    A good story!
  • (3/5)
    Lots of repressed sexual desires fail to animate selfish and self-entitled Cora's fairly lame search for more ofMary Anning's fossils. Cora's real "How could you?" belongs not to her unfazed, unattractive, and unwelcome suitor, Luke Garrett, but to herand "Reverend" Ransome. Their selfish behavior contributed to the decline and death of Stella. Yes, I believe in the truth of Love at First Sight, but the possibility of total betrayal and lies to a good friend should have signaled 'go away from her life!' By idealizing and "adoring" Stella, they sacrifice her and cover up their phony pretension of not simply wanting to indulge their own pleasure.The plot totally dimmed with their actions - one wishes for The Wyndham Child. The only reason I read on was to find out if there was actually an Essex Serpent. Not a great reward.How the loving curator husband could fail to see his wife's obvious physical decline and get help made no sense.Highlight of the book are the vivid landscapes!Enough with the stupid "Imp" > as annoying as "Cheeseburger" in Anne Hillerman's books.
  • (5/5)
    This is masterful work. The characters, themes, writing are developed and nuanced to that sweet spot of reading delight. I laughed and cringed and thoroughly enjoyed the ride. Sarah Perry is a brilliant storyteller and I can't wait to read more from her. This is a rare example of a book that is engaging and artful, inside and out. Go ahead and judge it by the cover. You won't be disappointed.

    Thanks to William Morrow for providing an advanced reader's edition of this book!
  • (3/5)
    I didn't dislike it, but I fail to see what all the hype was about.
  • (3/5)
    I'm not sure how I feel about The Essex Serpent, is it a positive or negative feeling overall, but I certainly read straight to the end to find out what happened to the characters, and I found it interesting in the way it used traditional Gothic themes and structure.The Gothic elements here are primarily in the Victorian, rural/estuary Essex setting, and in the conflict and play between Science and Superstition.The characters from the city are all doctors or scientists or otherwise "modern", basically the type to eschew superstition, including the central character Cora, who aspires to be a natural scientist and likes to collect rocks and fossils. Her companion Ruth is a socialist bent on fixing the city's housing problem for the impoverished, her son Francis is likely on the autistic spectrum and appears to distrust emotion and certainly doesn't display any himself, and her dear friend Luke is a brilliant surgeon who takes on cutting edge techniques and cases.When Cora's husband dies, she takes her son and Ruth to Essex to spend time in nature and maybe discover some rare fossils. Here, especially in the small country, seaside village of Aldwinter, are the representatives of Superstition. Vicar Will is a direct contrast to Luke - equally brilliant in school, but choosing to dedicate himself to religion in a backwater town. His wife Stella is (superficially) a delicate, flighty person, wholly unlike Ruth, and their eldest child Joanna first appears when she is attempting to cast a magic spell to hurry spring with her best friend and brother. Essex is the site of ruins from an earthquake many years before, and in Aldwinter especially there are rumors of a monster, some kind of sea serpent, that is threatening the village.So and thus, London and its people are modernity and science. Essex and the people there are the past and superstition. The two mingle, not just because of Cora. The science goes to Essex and muddles things up, the irrationality of the country finds its way to the city. The story finds a happy medium, of sorts, as it examines the flaws of the two perspectives, and the rightness of each as well. Each character moves towards that middle by the end.I enjoyed the process of the story and the evocative imagery. It is fairly vividly late Victorian, which was enjoyable to read (though I wondered about the lack of servants anywhere!). I appreciated that even as steeped as it is in the 19th century thought and what was known of the world, nods are given to modern sensibilities - one character is quietly queer, mass hysteria is shown from a recent perspective, but also many of the medical or science things we now know are bunk are treated that way.The themes ended up feeling uneven and superficial. I couldn't really figure out what the author was trying to say, and ultimately felt that finding a middle balance was a weak way to do it, especially with the book being so Gothic. I wanted more conviction and more strongly Good/Bad character dichotomies. (Which I admit I did like the way everyone is cast in grey...that's just not what I want from this kind of book.) Every main character has their plot tied up to show them finding a new middle ground and how they're growing as people, but none of that felt much like an ending. It's almost like the book just fizzled out, or ran out of things to say, or something. The resolution of Cora's love story plot, too, was frustratingly middle-of-the-road, when I wanted it to have a stronger statement. Though, again, I do appreciate the shades-of-grey/real-people-are-like-this elements of it.I think I also am bristling against the treatment of Science vs. Superstition (or Religion or Emotion or whatever) that ultimately organizes the plot threads. It's almost a feeling of Modernity being framed as less good than the wholesome religion and country living - even though the whole book is about how people need the logic and steadiness to counter runaway base emotions and thoughtlessness. (But also, life isn't living without emotion. It was kind of annoying that the apparently autistic child's happy ending is when he shows affection for his mother.)So, to sum up, I like the idea of this book, and enjoyed reading it, but I did not like the thematic conclusions it makes and wish that it had taken a more vocal stance about them, without being so middle-of-the-road. I wish it were more like those Sensational novels of the 19th century, with a clear Good/Bad character division, and not so much of a downplaying of modernity and science in order to create that balance.
  • (5/5)
    Recently widowed Cora moves to Aldwinter, a village on the Essex coast, where she encounters the vicar, William. William is struggling to reassure an entire community living in fear of the mythical (or is it?) Essex Serpent, which is believed to bring disaster and death as a sort of judgment on sin. This excellent novel deals with topics as wide-ranging as social injustice (with special reference to housing), Victorian attitudes to advances in medicine and reason versus faith. This is all done through the various well-drawn characters: including surgeon Luke (naturally lacking a bedside manner), activist Martha, and the lovely Spencer, who puts his money where his mouth is and comes through for his friend.Cora herself was so self-centred and self-absorbed that the more I read of her the less I understood her (and certainly the less I liked her). Other than talking to the school children about fossils, she seemed to do little to deserve her role as woman of science and reason - she mainly passed her days walking around the countryside as far as I could see. I also failed to believe in William and Stella's relationship - I would have needed to see more of it before Stella became ill. The blurb describes the novel as celebrating love in all its incarnations, but I do not really see Cora as capable of love.Aldwinter and its particular weather features was almost a character in itself and the novel has led me to form a resolution never to visit the Essex coast.
  • (3/5)
    A warmly-written novel of relationships in a Victorian setting which, with its glimpses of inchoate feminism and socialism, isn't as revelatory as the author seems to imagine. Spoiler, I was disappointed that the titular beast ended up being nothing more than a symbol, albeit a deftly deployed and multivalent one.
  • (2/5)
    Too many topics. Too many characters with a story to tell. The result is a muddled novel. Sad to say that the best thing about this book is it's amazing jacket design.
  • (4/5)
    I enjoyed this book a lot. It covers a vast range of themes, from old folklore, through developments in surgery and the birth of social housing. But essentially it is a love story involving a modern woman [at the end of the nineteenth century and a country parson. It moves from London, to Colchester and on to a village on the Blackwater estuary in Essex. As well as the moving central relationship, there is a plethora of other characters, all of whom are well drawn by the author. A really good read and I look forward to our book group discussion.
  • (3/5)
    Pretty boring. Can't understand the rave reviews and awards. Guess you have to be English to appreciate the victorian atmosphere. I found it terribly dull. I finish what I start, but it got no more intriguing further on.
  • (4/5)
    Really enjoyed this book. It took me over a month to finish it which is my MO when I don't want a novel to end. Perry writes beautifully building an interesting story and really well drawn characters. This is a book to get lost in but requires your 21st century brain to slow down so you can fully enjoy Perry's work.
  • (4/5)
    Recently widowed Cora Seabourne is not exactly in mourning. Instead she contemplates her freedom from an oppressive, abusive husband whom she married quite young. As the main character, she is the spool around which many unrequited romantic entanglements are wound. Martha, nanny to Cora's son Francis and Cora's "companion", is in love with Cora, but is being pursued by Spencer, yet ends up with Edward. Luke, the erstwhile husband's surgeon, is in love with Cora who strings him along....whether knowingly or unknowingly. Cora is in love with Will, a vicar who is married to Stella. Will is torn between Stella, the love of his life who is rapidly fading, and his enchantment with Cora. Oh and just for interest, Martha & Luke do hook up in a tryst where they are both fantasizing about Cora.With so much repressed sexuality and emotion is it any surprise that a serpent believed to be lurking in the Blackwater of Essex captures everyone's imagination? The dark, wet symbolism of the serpent with snout and tail and wings is hard to miss. This story could only have taken place in Victorian times.The story explores many aspects of love, longing, and friendship in a rather complicated way. Spencer is a devoted friend to Luke and their shared vocation as surgeons is vital to that relationship. Joanna, pre-teen daughter of the vicar and his wife, has a complicated friendship with Naomi Banks, the daughter of a poor widowed fisherman.At the beginning of the book the author's writing is stilted, almost as though she is trying to imitate the writing of the Victorian era and somewhat misses the mark. As the book progresses she relaxes into a more readable style. There is a lot of atmospheric writing, describing fog, trees, mud, fossils, and other aspects of the natural world. At times this is almost poetic, at other times it seems a bit over written.Nevertheless, I enjoyed the story and give it 3.5 stars.