Title: The Essex Serpent
Author: Sarah Perry
Published: Serpent’s Tail; Main edition (20 April 2017)
Brereton Book Club Reviewer: Judith Davenport
Sarah Perry has created a wonderful tableau of Victorian characters in this intriguingly descriptive story of love and superstition amongst the salt marshes of the Essex estuaries.
The delightful prose vividly creates the mysterious and brooding landscape which provides the setting against which the lives of the characters unfold. The main focus of the novel is the intense relationship between Cora and the local rector. Cora is a fiercely independent, young widow fascinated with science, sceptical of religion and determined to discover the truth of the Essex Serpent. The vicar is beguiled by Cora. She challenges his beliefs and values; his conscience is tormented and he finds himself torn between his devotion to his sick wife and his feelings for Cora. However, the novel is about far more than a mere romantic love triangle and through the lives of the other characters, Sarah Perry writes about thwarted ambitions, rejection and unfulfilled love as well as reimagining with remarkable conviction the spirit of the Victorian era. Perry captures the dirt and poverty of the Victorian slums and the hustle and bustle of London streets, as well as graphically describing pioneering surgical procedures!
I agree with other reviewers that there are echoes of Dickens and Bram Stoker in this novel and although not a page turner, I was absorbed by the characters and the world created within it.
It is, on the whole a satisfying read, but I would have preferred a more conventional ending.