THE ESSEX SERPENT
A compulsive gothic read
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BY SARAH PERRY
The Essex Serpent is a wonderful gothic novel by Sarah Perry and one that is currently being filmed in the UK (starring Claire Danes and Tom Hiddleston). This was the author's second novel that deservedly won Waterstones Book of the Year in 2016, as well as a British Book Award winner.
And it wasn’t just the exquisite William Morris gold leaf jacket that appealed to us when we first set eyes on it (and it really did) or the title, The Essex Serpent (some of us in the Den are from Essex), but the blurb on the back was convincing - ‘one of the most memorable historical novels of the past decade’ - Sunday Times. So we had to take the plunge! And so might you.
To be honest it required a leap of faith and tested our 101 page rule which is you have to give all good books at least 101 pages to absorb yourself into the narrative and find yourself a character buddy. And someone you want ‘to follow’. Sarah Perry won our hearts.
The book starts in Victorian London with a newly widowed woman who finds herself stepping into a new life with as much relief as sadness; her marriage was not a happy one and she never suited the role of society wife. Accompanied by her troubled son she leaves London for coastal Essex for some fresh air only to find herself distracted by the folklore and sightings surrounding the Essex Serpent. Plus an unexpected romance with a married vicar.
As a self conscious gothic fiction it is full of symbolism and red herrings - but all taken with a little pinch of ‘modern day’ salt. Perry cleverly uses the genre and period setting as a backdrop to the concerns of her characters - that of love intertwined with religious, political, social and scientific dilemmas of Victorian Society.
Gave us lots to debate! Generally full marks (for those who got past 101!)
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