The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry
Whilst reading The Essex Serpent, I did feel like some mythical force was keeping me turning the pages. I couldn’t remember the blurb when I started reading and had chosen the book based on it being the Waterstones Book of the Year 2016, so went in with a clear mind. I did not know what to expect. The novel turned out to be a surprisingly captivating depiction of belief and friendship, the kind of historically set novel that isn’t bogged down by the period in which it is set.
The book follows the mystery surrounding a strange creature apparently living in the Essex waters, but also Victorian developments in science, poverty, and feminism. These elements form major parts of the narrative, rather than feeling like forced backdrops, and help create the vivid characters which seem to be the real charm of The Essex Serpent. From Cora, looking for freedom in the serpent’s legend, to Naomi, a village girl overwhelmed by the spell that has fallen over the village, the characters are interesting and torn between aspects of belief and relationships.
The Essex Serpent took me a little while to get into. Once in, I wasn’t sure what to expect and though the plot line does centre around larger dramatic events, it was mostly propelled forward by the characters, meaning that you end up caring more what will happen to them than what will literally occur. There are lots of books out there set in the Victorian period, but this is a good one for sure, a gothic tale that shows wonder rather than repression.