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The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry

The Essex Serpent

Literary Fiction   Books of the Month   Books of the Year 2016   Costa Awards 2016   Historical Fiction   Reading Groups   eBook Favourites   
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One of our Books of the Year 2016.

Shortlisted for the Costa Novel Award 2016.

A gorgeously eloquent and powerfully expressive novel, ‘The Essex Serpent’ explores an unusual relationship in the 1890’s. This isn't exactly a love story, it is rather, a tale about love, in all its different forms. While Cora and Will form the heart of this novel, every member of the surrounding cast is as important as these two, each fitting into a perfectly formed relationship jigsaw. At times they may not be likeable, they may have their quirks, their differences, yet they are so well formed, it is possible to feel empathy as you question a decision or comment made. The Essex serpent coiled and waiting, exploits fear and mistrust, creating a fascinating setting in which connections flourish and wither. Sarah Perry’s ability to paint a picture with her beautifully chosen words is extraordinary. At times the Victorian setting vanished and the relationships felt very current and modern, while at others the different time period proclaimed the complications and difficulties faced by anyone judged as being different. ‘The Essex Serpent’ isn't a story to be rushed, it should be savoured, and valued, and most of all, enjoyed for the truly beautiful novel it is. ~ Liz Robinson

June 2016 Book of the Month and eBook of the Month.

Costa judges' comment: “This is the best kind of historical fiction – brimming with ideas and energy.”

A 'Piece of Passion' from the Publisher...

'As an editor, there are books to which you become deeply connected. And then there are those books that you become so close to that you almost feel as though they are a part of you. The Essex Serpent, the second novel by Sarah Perry, is one such rare book, and I can’t wait for it to be out in the world.

It is a sumptuously imagined novel of lives playing out against bigger historical moments, and it is the most unusual and moving love story I have ever read. It confirms Sarah Perry’s place among the finest novelists of her generation.' ~ Hannah Westland, Editor, Serpent's Tail

Reader Reviews

In addition to our Lovereading expert opinion some of our Reader Review Panel were also lucky enough to read and review this title. You can click here to read the full reviews.

  • Catherine Price  - 'If you haven't read The Essex Serpent you have a treat ahead. This is a novel which beautifully crosses over between a historical setting and modern sensibilities, carried along by a cracking plot.'
  • Vikki Patis - 'From page 1, I was entranced, swept up and hauled back into late Victorian England...a complete work of genius. It's the kind of story every would-be writer aspires to write....Perry should bask in the glow of this triumph.'
  • Ann Peet - 'Enthralling, evocative, thought-provoking....and a very good read.'
  • Joan Sidwell - 'At its heart a love story of two completely different characters, I could  admire the exceptional research and attention to detail in the writing and just maybe it needs to be read again (and again?) to appreciate and absorb it fully.'
  • Joy Finlayson - 'It is anachronistic – a novel of a previous era, voiced so confidently by an author of our time. It is a novel to really indulge yourself in this summer and beyond.'
  • Glenda Worth - 'a novel of love, heartache, and fear told in such a way it draws you in willing the story to unfold but not wanting the book to end.'
  • Tanera Simons - 'A beautifully written historical novel, Perry draws on her extensive knowledge of the Victorian era to present a richly intricate novel that debates the themes of religion and science.'
  • Victoria Whish - 'A sumptuous, wildly addictive book that’s evocative and richly written. It’s about love, place, belief and scientific discovery all realised in a seasonal structure that frames the story perfectly.' 
  • Edel Waugh - 'I recommend this to anyone who likes a rebellious female lead character.'
  • Angie Rhodes - 'It's a wonderful book. One that lovers of Dickens and Gothic Victorian novels will love!'
  • Marjorie Lacy - 'Sarah Perry is a wonderful writer, lyrical and poetic but able to make you feel you were there on the Essex marshes with her.'
  • Vanessa Wild - 'An atmospheric, absorbing and quirky read, full of fascinating characters...beautifully written and extremely evocative of the era.' 
  • Nicola Kingswell - 'Beautifully written, intelligent and interesting, this is an unusual but wonderfully enveloping story.'
  • Evelyn Love-Gajardo - 'I would highly recommend this beautifully written novel - I haven't enjoyed a book so much in ages!'
  • Helen Lowry - 'Very well-written and enjoyable as a character driven, slightly Gothic novel!'
  • Barbara Goldie - 'A great read, clever plot, good storytelling!'
  • Nicola Underwood - 'This is a well written book which features many aspects of Victorian life. It is quite slow paced but has a quirky nature.'

Win tickets to Chiddingstone Castle Lit Fest

We have four pairs of tickets to give away to hear Alison Weir at the Chiddingstone Castle Literary Festival Sunday 30 April 4 - 5 pm. Please note that this draw is open only for UK residents and is free to enter. Multiple entries from the same email address will only be counted once and the prize cannot be exchanged for cash and does not include transport or accommodation. Draw closes on Friday 17 April. The winners will be chosen randomly from all entrants and will be notified by 20 April 2017.

Enter prize draw Draw closes: 17/04/2017


The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry

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.


‘One of the most memorable historical novels of the past decade’. Sunday Times

'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 book to make you want to be a better person' -- Justine Jordan, The Guardian

'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

'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

About the Author

Sarah Perry

Sarah Perry was born in Essex in 1979. She has a PhD in creative writing from Royal Holloway, and has been the writer in residence at the Gladstone Library and the UNESCO World City of Literature Writer in Residence in Prague. Her first novel, After Me Comes the Flood, was longlisted for the Guardian First Book Award and the Folio Prize, and won the East Anglian Book of the Year Award in 2014. She lives in Norwich.

Author photo © Jamie Drew

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Book Info

Publication date

2nd June 2016


Sarah Perry

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Serpent's Tail an imprint of Profile Books Ltd


432 pages


Literary Fiction
Books of the Month
Books of the Year 2016
Costa Awards 2016
Historical Fiction
Reading Groups
eBook Favourites

Modern & contemporary fiction (post c 1945)



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