The Essex Serpent - Sarah Perry

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The Essex Serpent - Sarah Perry

Post by Graham on Mon Jun 04, 2018 6:18 pm

This is a book to immerse yourself in. It takes you to a time and a place separated from ours by the chasm of the twentieth century but in the difficulties of being human and relating to others of our species it is altogether modern. It is set in the late Victorian period when women’s suffrage had become a live but contested issue. Cora Seaborne, relieved by the death of her domineering husband, moves to the marshes of Essex where she meets and befriends the Reverend William Ransome. She is a thoroughly modern woman and takes herself about the country in her long flowing skirts searching for fossils. She has a son who might well be diagnosed today as autistic, a suitor Dr Luke Garret who can recite the parts of the human heart and indeed performs ground-breaking surgery on one but who alas hasn’t the slightest clue to the secrets of hers. Her maid and best friend Martha occasionally shares her bed, platonically as far as we can tell, and has her own unsuitable suitor.

The serpent of the title may or may not be real (headlines from an original broadsheet preface the sections) but its malevolent influence on the community underlines the developing relationship between Cora and the Reverend. Ransome’s wife Stella is dying from tuberculosis and the strains this places on his and Cora’s friendship are exacerbated by an ill-judged attempt at hypnosis Garret undertakes on Ransome’s daughter.

Relationships are at the heart of the story, but it is bolstered by thoroughly researched detail and skilful elaboration of the various intricacies and intimacies tying together and sundering the parties. I have a fear however that when Holywood gets hold of it they will tamper with the ending.

As I paid for this book at Blackwell’s the young woman at the till told me it was her favourite book and asked me to report back. I will tell her it was a pleasurable and satisfying experience.

Graham
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