Review | Sarah Perry’s ‘Essex Serpent’

Brims with Curiosity and Discovery

It is 1896, and Cora Seaborne’s brutal, controlling husband has just died. Newly widowed, Cora decides to move with her autistic son, Francis, and socialist companion, Martha, from London to the small town of Colchester, much to her city-dwelling friends’ dismay. Once there, Cora learns of an ancient sea monster, the Essex Serpent, that, according to the townspeople, has come back after 200 years to make them repent for their sins. Cora, a fervent atheist, becomes infatuated with finding the monster and the town’s logical, pious rector, Will Ransome. Despite opposing beliefs, Cora and Will develop a strong friendship, as Will’s beautiful and charming wife, Stella, becomes ill. 

Author Sarah Perry’s slow, yet satisfying novel is a feminist manifesto that is part nature writing, part love letter to science and our most valued friendships. From the outset, Perry, originally from Essex herself, envelopes the reader in the world of Victorian England and the mud of the Blackwater River. Her luscious language brims with the curiosity for the natural world and discovery that defines the Victorian age. Perry’s characters are quirky, well-developed, and flawed yet lovable; her themes are universal; and overall, this winding tale is a joy to read.

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