The Essex Serpent

By Sarah Perry

Historical, Science vs Religion, Friendship


Published by Serpent’s Tail

Longlist 2017

A sumptuously imagined novel of passion, ideas and friendship.

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. Accompanied by her son Francis, she leaves town for Essex, where she hopes fresh air and open space will provide refuge.

When they arrive 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. Cora, a keen naturalist with no patience for religion or superstition, is immediately enthralled, convinced that the magical beast may simply be an undiscovered species. As she sets out on its trail, she collides with 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 faith. As he tries to calm his parishioners, he and Cora strike up an intense relationship, and although they agree on nothing, they find themselves inexorably drawn together, eventually changing each other’s lives in ways entirely unexpected.

Told with exquisite grace and intelligence, this novel is above all a celebration of love, and the many different guises it can take.

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