The Essex Serpent
The number one bestseller and British Book Awards Book of the Year
THE SUNDAY TIMES NUMBER ONE BESTSELLER
Overall Book of the Year and Fiction Book of the Year at the British Book Awards 2017 (Nibbies)
Longlisted for the 2017 Baileys Women's Prize for Fiction
The Waterstones Book of the Year 2016
Shortlisted for the 2016 Costa Novel Award
'One of the most memorable historical novels of the past decade' Sunday Times
London 1893. When Cora Seaborne's husband dies, she steps into her new life as a widow 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 son Francis - a curious, obsessive boy - she leaves town for Essex, where she hopes fresh air and open space will provide the refuge they need.
When they take lodgings in Colchester, rumours reach them from further up the estuary that the mythical Essex Serpent, once said to roam the marshes claiming human lives, has returned to the coastal parish of Aldwinter. Cora, a keen amateur naturalist with no patience for religion or superstition, is immediately enthralled, convinced that what the local people think is a magical beast may be a previously undiscovered species. As she sets out on its trail, she is introduced to William Ransome, Aldwinter's vicar.
Like Cora, Will is deeply suspicious of the rumours, but he thinks they are founded on moral panic, a flight from real faith. As he tries to calm his parishioners, he and Cora strike up an intense relationship, and although they agree on absolutely nothing, they find themselves inexorably drawn together and torn apart, eventually changing each other's lives in ways entirely unexpected.
Told with exquisite grace and intelligence, this novel is most of all a celebration of love, and the many different guises it can take.
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What Reviewers Are Saying
The Essex Serpent is a novel to relish: a work of great intelligence and charm, by a hugely talented author -- Sarah Waters Had Charles Dickens and Bram Stoker come together to write the great Victorian novel, I wonder if it would have surpassed The Essex Serpent? No way of knowing, but with only her second outing, Sarah Perry establishes herself as one of the finest fiction writers working in Britain today. -- John Burnside A big, warm, generous novel that wears its considerable wisdom lightly, The Essex Serpent is an absolute pleasure from start to finish - I truly didn't want it to end. -- Melissa Harrison The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry [is] a joyous and beguiling book that wrapped itself around me rather like its eponymous monster. -- Cathy Rentzenbrink A blissful novel of unapologetic appetites, where desire and faith mingle on the marshes, but friendship is the miracle. Sarah Perry has the rare gift of committing the uncommittable to prose - that is to say: here is a writer who understands life. -- Jessie Burton A book to make you want to be a better person. -- Justine Jordan, The Guardian I loved this book. At once numinous, intimate and wise, The Essex Serpent is a marvellous 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 A sinuous historical novel by the genius that is Sarah Perry -- Lucy Mangan * Stylist * An historical novel with real depth ... Perry writes fantastically, and this deserves attention for the rest of the year. -- Steven Cooper * The Bookseller * One day this book will make a fine BBC period drama ... Perry is a wonderful descriptive writer with a remarkable talent for making the familiar strange ... Her accounts of open-heart surgery carried out half a century before antibiotics, or an autistic child questioning the nature of sin, or a soldier's wedding in the phthisic slums of Bethnal Green, snatch the breath in your throat. Perry bleeds light into darkness and back again with a mastery born of her deep professional acquaintance with the gothic tradition. -- Oliver Moody * Times * The Essex Serpent is a work of historical fiction, set in the 1890s, which, for originality, richness of prose and depth of characterisation is unlikely to be bettered this year ... a remarkable novel. Although Will and Cora provide the focal points for her story, Perry has packed The Essex Serpent with a rich array of equally rounded characters to hold our attention. The novel is full of vivid set pieces ... it is Perry's ability to conjure up a sense of entire lives unfolding before our eyes that is most impressive. Filled with wisdom about human behaviour and motivations, and written in a distinctive, stylish prose, The Essex Serpent is one of the most memorable historical novels of the past decade. -- Nick Rennison * Sunday Times * One for the holiday suitcase. A historical romance with a gothic twist ... expect to spot a copy on beach towels this summer. * Vogue * An irresistible novel that taps the vein of Victorian gothic and British myth * Daily Telegraph * It's prompted comparisons to both Dickens and Bram Stoker and marries the former's abhorrence of injustice with the latter's genius for unsettling atmosphere ... Hardy-esque ... a rich and complex novel but also a deeply enjoyable read, with warm humanity at its core. -- Jeff Robson * iPaper * An irresistible novel ... Perry's Victoriana is the most fresh-feeling I can remember ... Her prose is often beautiful ... the tone is a masterstroke ... You feel the influences of Mary Shelley, Bram Stoker, Wilkie Collins, Charles Dickens and Hilary Mantel channelled by Perry in some sort of Victorian seance. This is the best new novel I've read in years. It's the kind of work that makes you alive to the strangeness of the world and of our history. -- Charlotte Runcie * Daily Telegraph * Engaging ... On the book's cover, John Burnside compares The Essex Serpent to Dickens and Stoker. But it was one of my favourite novels, Alasdair Gray's Poor Things (1992), that kept coming back to me ... Perry takes apart our preconceptions of prim Victorian mores with similar gusto ... The Essex Serpent is a historical novel with an entirely modern consciousness, and is every bit as gripping and unusual as its predecessor. -- Alex Preston * FT * The Essex Serpent is frightfully good. -- Susan Hill * Twitter * An intelligent, lushly written gothic yarn ... Reading it makes you want to hotfoot it to the Essex coast. -- Claire Allfree * Metro * Everything they're saying is true: sumptuous, beautiful, powerful, engrossing, brilliant. -- Nina Stibbe * Twitter * A lovely book ... it sets out unashamedly to lift the spirits ... The writing has a gorgeous lilt ... The method is itself Victorian - an omniscient narrator scattering sackfuls of sympathy - but the message never gets old: the world is poorer if we don't put ourselves in each other's place once in a while. -- Anthony Cummins * Spectator * Sarah Perry's new novel The Essex Serpent is a thing of beauty inside and out. I don't think I've ever mentioned a book's cover in a review before, but Peter Dyer's William Morris-inspired design is stunning, a tantalizing taste of the equally sumptuous prose that lies within ... When it comes to historical fiction, Perry's achieved the near impossible; she's created a novel and within it a world that seems to have sprung complete and fully formed directly from the period in question - a long lost fin-de-siecle Gothic classic - but her characters are as enticingly modern as they are of their period ... Perry also showcases the most beguiling evocations of landscape ... For only a second novel it's a stunning achievement, one for which I predict prize nominations galore, from the Wellcome to the Man Booker -- Lucy Scholes * Independent online * A richly themed and exhilarating novel ... this poetically written story dramatises the clash between rationality and resurgent superstition, between desire, morality and the intellect, and the struggle of reformers to redress the poverty of late-Victorian society. -- Elizabeth Buchan * Daily Mail * Sarah Perry has written an exquisitely absorbing, old-fashioned page-turner peopled by memorable characters, particularly the magnificent, stubborn and wilful Cora. Perry also captures a society on the brink of a profound shift, uncomfortably reassessing its view of the world through the prism of scientific progress.
The Essex Serpent is shot through with such a vivid, lively sense of the period that it reads like Charles Dickens at his most accessible and fans of Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell will also find much to love in this engaging, entertaining Gothic novel. -- Charlotte Heathcote * Daily Express * A novel of ideas, and flexes its muscles in addressing multiple concerns of the period ... The novel probes at both private emotion and public concerns, and is engrossing and immersive. The grime of London is only surpassed by the murk of Aldwinter. Cora makes for an indelible heroine: uncompromising, funny and smart, and not unlike Alma Whittaker in Elizabeth Gilbert's The Signature of All Things. There will also be whispers of Dickens or a gamut of 19th century novels of similar size and scale, but Perry's voice and story are her own. Her language is exquisite, her characterisation finely tuned. Based on The Essex Serpent and its predecessor, it's clear that Perry is a gifted writer of immense ability. -- Sinead Gleeson * Irish Times * A Victorian-era gothic with a Dickensian focus on societal ills, Perry's second novel surprises in its wonderful freshness. There's a sense of Llareggub about close-knit Aldwinter, its flint church, historic oak and ribby shipwreck instantly present, while the tapestry of voices that results from the use of letters amplifies the Under Milk Wood echo. Perry's singular characters are drawn with a fondness that is both palpable and contagious, and the beautifully observed changing seasons permitted space to breathe, all making for pure pleasure. -- Stephanie Cross * Observer * An eerie tale of science and superstition ... gothically good. -- Eithne Farry * Sunday Express * It's 1893, and Cora Seabourne is a young widow whose husband's death has released her from a miserable marriage. Finally free to follow her own interest in natural history, Cora heads to Essex, hoping the recent reports of a mysterious ancient serpent may possibly turn out to be proof of a "living fossil . . . a species outwitting extinction". There she meets the local vicar, Will Ransome, and despite his scepticism about science and her lack of faith in religion, the two forge an unlikely bond. A bewitching and luminous book about science, faith and different kinds of love. -- Anna Carey * Irish Times * Gem after gem after gem ... the book is a mosaic of perfectly chosen words ... very special * Marian Keyes * Wonderfully written, full of riches ... Sarah Perry is a wonderful writer ... imagine Lair Of The White Worm rewritten by Marilynne Robinson * Tom Holland * The result is a novel that somehow embodies the exhilaration and ecstasies - of body and mind - its characters stumble into, suggesting not just the ferment of its times but something of the ferment of our own. And, no less impressively, it exults in the possibility that inheres in the liminal spaces that its titular serpent inhabits - between land and sea, old and new, even life and death. Agile, unconventional, wonderfully weightless, it is a delight. * The Australian * Confident, intelligent and original storytelling - I was seduced by the many charms of The Essex Serpent * Laline Paull, author of The Bees * I was completely enthralled -- Tracy Chevalier * Good Housekeeping * A beautifully written, warm and funny follow-up to After Me Comes the Flood -- Sally Magnusson * Sunday Herald * The book I loved this year... stunning [Books of the Year] -- Jenni Murray * Observer * This uplifting tale challenges its characters - and readers - to question first impressions. -- Catherine Kielthy * Breathe *