Skip to main content


Literary Friday: The Essex Serpent

Friday, December 8, 2017

Happy Literary Friday, My  Lovelies!  Are you warm today?  It's so cold here, with snow flurries in the forecast.  It's the perfect day to make something hot, sit by a fire, and READ!  (or if you're our younger daughter: STUDY for exams!)

This week I read The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry.  This book has won so many awards, including the British Book Award for Book of the Year.  I love the pretty William Morris cover, and I was anxious to read it based on rave reviews.

According to Goodreads:

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.

My review:

This novel sucked me in from the beginning: It begins with some of the most beautifully lyrical prose I've ever read.  The story begins on New Year's Eve with the mysterious, almost supernatural-seeming death of a young man down by the banks of the Blackwater in Essex.  These first couple pages are creepy: the mood and atmosphere are overwhelmingly sinister.  I bought into the myth of the Essex serpent hook, line, and sinker! Next, it's a new year, and the prose about time in London is the lyrical prose I mentioned earlier.  I was enthralled when I read it!  Here's an excerpt:

"Time was being served behind the walls of Newgate jail, and wasted by philosophers in caf├ęs on the Strand; it was lost by those who wished the past were present, and loathed by those who wished the present past.  Oranges and lemons rang the chimes of St. Clement's and Westminster's division bell was dumb."
The Essex Serpent, page 11

I was expecting not just a story about a sea monster, but a story where two different world views collide, yet love doesn't care.  This is not really what the book is about.  The novel shares several Victorian advances, like in medicine.  It also spotlights the Victorian's love for all things strange and interesting.  There's even a little politics thrown in with some of Cora's friends and acquaintances dabbling in social reform and attending Eleanor Marx lectures.  There definitely is a sense of the Victorian era in the novel as far as historical markers are concerned, but the story itself doesn't really reflect Victorian sensibilities.

Everyone seems to love Cora.  Everyone.  She's the least developed character in the novel, and I still don't feel as if I know her.  For example, I can't imagine why she put up with an abusive husband: It seems so out of character for her.  She isn't beautiful, she isn't very delightful, and she isn't very serious about her paleontology hobby, either (she's no Mary Anning).  I just can't imagine why several of the characters are in love with her.

Will Ransome is a bit of a conundrum, too, and  I'm less than impressed with his faith.  He obviously adores and loves his wife.  He does seem devoted to her, yet he has this weird thing for Cora.  And I don't think that Cora has anything on Stella: Stella's much more intelligent and wise than the others think.   It seems to me that the good folks of Aldwinter should find Cora and Will's traipsing around a wee bit unseemly.  Surely they weren't that distracted by the serpent not to notice Cora's constant presence at the vicarage unless they couldn't see through the fog.  Honestly I'm very annoyed with the fog in this book: He is the true villain.  He keeps the plot from moving forward.

There's lots of lovely symbolism in the novel: the serpent, the fog, Stella and her obsession with all things blue, just to name a few.  It is so well-written (prose-wise) and there's lots to discuss.  For these reasons I think it would make an excellent book club selection.  

Until next time...

Happy reading!
Ricki Jill


  1. The setting sounds intriguing and I love you included an excerpt of the writing style, so eloquent!

  2. How cozy, to sit in your fluffy chair with a throw over your lap! glad you enjoyed your book:)

  3. It has been the perfect weather to cozy up with a book. Sounds interesting and I like to the cover too, grabs you! I enjoyed your review.


Comments are friendly!


I'm Ricki Jill. Welcome! I'm honored that you're reading my blog. I enjoy sharing my creative lifestyle @ The Bookish Dilettante. For more information about my blog, please read the Start Here page. Thank-you for stopping by, and I hope you'll consider following me via email.

Follow me on Instagram