The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry


Come with Cora, follow her onto the marshes. Feel the mud squelching under your boots, the wind blowing through your hair, the sea spray on your tongue. That’s what it feels like to read Booker Prize nominee The Essex Serpent; wild, elemental, almost sensual.

Young Victorian society widow Cora moves out to the Essex backwaters with her strange son and feisty companion. She rediscovers herself amongst hunting for fossils and rambling through forests. She unearths the myth of the Essex Serpent, a primordial monster that casts a shadow over Aldwinter village.

The story is very biblical, gothic even: there’s something very Old Testament about a punishment visited upon your sins. Children break out in laughing fits, men are found dead in the estuary, animals go astray. Cora meets William Ransome, the local Reverend, and his family and all are drawn under a dream-like spell of behaviour.

My only criticism would be that it’s uneven in places: the scenes set in the slums of Whitechapel or even any away from the countryside drag. Maybe a necessary counterpoint but Perry is at her best in elemental environments.

Read: For a picture of Essex far away from white stilettos and spray tans.

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