Monday, 25 June 2018

The Ish Mother Reads: 'The Essex Serpent' by Sarah Perry

It's a while since I wrote about the books I've been reading myself - I have been keeping up with my New Year's Resolution to read more, but just haven't been reading books I could easily review! And if I'm honest I'm not entirely sure how to review my most recent read, but I'll give it a go.

Last year when compiling my Christmas wish list I asked for book recommendations on Twitter, and at least a couple of people recommended 'The Essex Serpent'. Sure enough I got it for Christmas, but already had a few other books I needed to finish or read first, so it took me a while to get to it.

'The Essex Serpent' is set in 1893 and tells the story of Cora Seaborne, a wealthy widow who leaves her London home in pursuit of the legendary Essex Serpent, a Nessie-type figure which she believes could be a dinosaur that somehow escaped extinction. Her pursuit leads her to meet Will Ransome, parish priest of a small coastal village, and his family. The pair form an unusual friendship, often falling out over matters of faith and science, while the village is in the grip of the fabled monster they fear is waiting for them in the nearby sea.

I found it a really interesting and enjoyable read - not gripping exactly, I didn't find myself rushing to read it, but equally I looked forward to my reading time at the end of the day in a way that I haven't done for a while. I found Cora and Will's relationship interesting but at times strangely unsettling. Without wanting to give too much away, there were times I felt frustrated by them. One thing I loved about the novel is that Will isn't portrayed as dogmatic or simple because he is a Christian - his faith, and his struggles with it, are both portrayed sympathetically, which makes a refreshing change from a lot of novels. When Cora and Will argue, you feel that it is a meeting of equal minds, and there is no sense that one viewpoint is superior to the other.

I was also fascinated by the portrayal of Cora's son, Francis. It is never explicitly stated (for obvious historical reasons) but it is pretty clear that Francis is autistic. He has fixations, he carries small objects almost like talismans, he refuses affection and is perplexed by relationships. I'd have liked to see more of him in the novel, and more about Cora's difficulties relating to her son.

The novel covers a lot of ground - as well as the issues of religion and science, there is also a subplot regarding housing in the working-class areas of London, and another intermingled one about medical advances - and at times it all felt a bit muddled. I found it hard to see how all the pieces of the story fit together (although that is possibly down to me reading it over a course of a few weeks rather than more quickly) but it was interesting seeing historical references being woven into the overall narrative.

I'd recommend this book to anyone who enjoys historical novels or is interested in nineteenth-century life. It takes a little bit of time to get going, and you need to have a good mind for keeping track of interweaving plots, but it's definitely worth sticking with. And the last few chapters will have your heart in your mouth!

Linking up with #ReadWithMe hosted by Mama Mummy Mum.

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  1. It sounds interesting but I'm not sure it's a book I would enjoy.

  2. Although I'm not a huge fan of historical novels this does sound like an intriguing read - especially when you get to the end!


  3. I found this one to be painfully slow! Not my favourite book I'm afraid, but I did plough through to finish it! #readwithme

  4. I'll admit that I'm not the biggest fan of historical fiction but that front cover is highly appealing! It does sound a bit confusing with varied subplots added in so I guess it requires a good amount of concentration to keep on track of it all. Thanks for sharing with #readwithme

  5. Great review - but definitely not my type of book! #readwithme

  6. I've heard good things about this one, but didn't actually know what it was about! It doesn't sound quite my cup of tea, but I do like to step outside my comfort zone from time to time, so maybe I will give this one a go.