More on: The Essex Serpent- Sarah Perry

Holy Moley, it’s hard to imagine a better week opening week of review attention. With stellar Washington Post, WSJ and NYT national reviews and a fascinating NPR interview, this is shaping up to be summer’s literary sleeper hit (though hard to call any book that’s already sold 250,000 copies in England a “sleeper.”)

Don’t skip the video link below to Washington Post reviewer Ron Charles’ “Totally Hip Book Review.” He does these in addition to his reviews in the paper and they are always hilarious. 🙂

“The most delightful heroine since Elizabeth Bennet in Pride and Prejudice… Perry creates that delicate illusion of the best historical fiction: an authentic sense of the past — its manners, ideals and speech — that feels simultaneously distant and relevant to us…By the end, The Essex Serpent identifies a mystery far greater than some creature ‘from the illuminated margins of a manuscript’: friendship.”
Washington Post (full review)

[A] novel of almost insolent ambition — lush and fantastical, a wild Eden behind a garden gate. Set in the Victorian era, it’s part ghost story and part natural history lesson, part romance and part feminist parable. It’s wonderfully dense and serenely self-assured. I found it so transporting that 48 hours after completing it, I was still resentful to be back home… Perry’s writing engages the senses. You can almost smell the brine, the oyster, the ‘secretive scent of fungus clinging to the oak.’ But the real abundance here is of feelings between characters, not all of them sentimental. It’s been a while since I’ve read a book in which a man and a woman quarrel quite so much, and quite so forcefully, without something devastating coming of it.”
New York Times (full review)

“Richly enjoyable… Ms. Perry writes beautifully and sometimes agreeably sharply… The Essex Serpent is a wonderfully satisfying novel. Ford Madox Ford thought the glory of the novel was its ability to make the reader think and feel at the same time. This one does just that.”
Wall Street Journal (full review)

The Essex Serpent (9780062666376) by Sarah Perry. $26.99 hardcover. 6/6/17 on sale.

 

Book of the Week: The Essex Serpent – Sarah Perry

This is a very clever literary novel that should appeal to fans Sarah Waters, Jessie Burton and Helene Wecker. Using the conventions of the 19th century Gothic novel, Perry tells the story of a young widow and a rural British village obsessed with the possibility of a prehistoric serpent the townspeople believe may be responsible for the mysterious deaths of several animals and people.

Against that background Parry is able to play out a story of science, faith and superstition populated with characters who feel both pegged to the time and refreshingly modern: a rakish dwarf who is a brilliant young surgeon and smitten with our heroine, the widow’s inscrutably peculiar son who we 21st century readers understand to be autistic, a country minister with a fierce intelligence that matches our heroine’s—and our heroine herself: an iconoclast, a survivor of abuse, and an autodidact fascinated with Darwin’s new theories. She thinks the “monster” might be an evolutionary throwback. That’s only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the cast of characters in this lively, inventive novel.

To me one of the book’s central pleasures is that it feels both subversively modern yet has all the charm and civility so central to the shape and tone of 19th century novels. And because Parry is playing with the 19th century Gothic, there are star-crossed lovers, romantic consumptives, high and low society, lives in peril. The book does Dickens and the Brontes proud. Combined with the mystery of the serpent, how it all gets resolved makes for very satisfying reading.

The Essex Serpent has been met with raves in England; the Waterstone Bookstore chain’s named it one of their books of the year calling it “the most deeply satisfying fiction you will read this year.”

On this side of the pond, it’s a June Indie Next pick. And as an indication of the broad popular/literary readership we expect, Variety selected Sarah Perry as one of “10 Brits to Watch in 2017.” Review attention starts with People, the NYTBR, WSJ, Washington Post, San Francisco Chronicle, Vogue and Vanity Fair.

The unlikely friendship between a canny widow and a scholarly vicar sets the stage for this sweeping 19th-century saga of competing belief systems….An unlikely pair, the two develop a fast intellectual friendship, curious to many but accepted by all, including Ransome’s ailing wife….Perry pulls out all the stops in her richly detailed Victorian yarn, weaving myth and local flavor with 19th-century debates about theology and evolution, medical science and social justice for the poor….The sumptuous twists and turns of Perry’s prose invite close reading, as deep and strange and full of narrative magic as the Blackwater itself….[P]repare to fall under Perry’s spell and into her very capable hands. Stuffed with smarts and storytelling sorcery, this is a work of astonishing breadth and brilliance.”
Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

“In Perry’s excellent second novel… a fatal illness, a knife-wielding maniac, and a fated union with the Essex Serpent will dictate the ultimate happiness of [the] characters. Like John Fowles’s The French Lieutenant’s Woman, whose Lyme Regis setting gets a shout-out here, this is another period literary pastiche with a contemporary overlay.”
Publishers Weekly

“The vivid, often frightening imagery… and the lush descriptions… create a magical background for the sensual love story between Sarah and Will. Book discussion groups will have a field day with the imagery, the well-developed characters, and the concepts of innocence, evil, and guilt.”
Booklist (starred review)

In this novel, reminiscent of Jane Eyre or Wuthering Heights in its bitter cold and windy weather, people surprise each other, much is not as it would seem, and the human heart wants what it wants, even when we know what happened in the garden of Eden. Lovely characters I will not soon forget.”
— Anne Holman, The King’s English Bookshop, Salt Lake City, UT

“[A] pitch-perfect modern take on the Victorian novel, channeling both Sarah Waters and Jane Austen. A weathered widow rediscovers a love for natural science as she both attempts to track down a mythical beastie in Essex, England and fend off a budding attachment to a local minister. Science and religion clash in a thrilling manner in this beautifully written novel, brimming with fully-formed, fascinating characters (I especially love her gruff, protective companion who is so in love). Romance! Passion! Religion! Politics! Giant river monsters! Fans of Elizabeth Gilbert’s The Signature of All Things are going to love this charming, yet scathing novel. I certainly did!”
— Bill, Carl, Wellesley Books, Wellesley, MA

The Essex Serpent (9780062666376) by Sarah Perry. $26.99 hardcover. 6/6/17 on sale.

Nonfiction Short Take: We Crossed a Bridge and It Trembled: Voices from Syria – Wendy Pearlman

This is a potent first-person collection of voices and testimonies from survivors of the Syrian Civil War and the subsequent humanitarian crisis that created over 4 million people seeking refuge.

While we might claim a kind of information fatigue when it comes to Syria, the stories of ordinary Syrians have remained largely unheard– stories told about them have painted by the brush of political agendas designed to create dread and to demonize millions of desperate, ordinary people. I challenge you to read this and not be moved by the quiet strength, hope and courage of these voices. Harper’s Magazine will run a first serial

 “[F]illed with hope, informed by an understanding of the unity possible in spite of the discord sowed by Assad.”
   — Publishers Weekly

Pearlman’s book is not only important because it puts names to suffering, but also because it reminds readers—especially in the final segment, Reflections’—that in the Syrian conflict, ‘there is no right or wrong,’ only problematic ‘shades of gray.’ A poignant and humane collection.”
Kirkus Reviews

“Pearlman aims to tell the personal stories of Syrian refugees who are often treated as a monolith in mainstream media…Stories range from hopeful during the protests to devastating as the war goes on. Families are separated, killed, and forced out of their homeland. The raw voices of refugees resonate as they describe the terror of living in a war zone…A heartbreaking, human, and necessary book. Recommended for anyone who wishes to better understand the Syrian conflict.”
   — Library Journal

We Crossed a Bridge and It Trembled: Voices from Syria (9780062654618) by Wendy Pearlman. $24.99 hardcover. 6/6/17 on sale.

New Nonfiction: The Spider Network – David Enrich

This book’s got one of those subtitles that is basically a plot synopsis. If you follow the financial news, you’ll remember the Libor Scandal—a currency manipulation scheme that was said to “[dwarf] by orders of magnitude any financial scams in the history of markets.”

And while at first blush currency manipulation might sound like a bit of a snore, this is a truly wild story involving international traders behaving like extras out of The Gang Who Couldn’t Shoot Straight as well as a young mildly autistic mathematician who ended up being the only one in this cast of quants and crooks to take a fall.

Author David Enrich is an award-winning WSJ financial reporter who heads up the paper’s investigative team and he does a Michael Lewis-like job of turning a scandal about the subtle manipulation of interest rates into a colorful character-driven story about amorality in the financial world.

Reviews are scheduled for the NYTBR and The Washington Post. The WSJ will run an excerpt on March 18 and Enrich will interviewed on Marketplace Radio.

A damning look at the culture of trader chicanery that spawned the Libor-rigging conspiracy and an expectations-defying portrait of its putative ringleader, Tom Hayes. Enrich has sidestepped the temptation to slip into author-as-prosecutor mode, instead going the wry tour guide route to lucidly (and often hilariously) usher readers through the Looney Tunes world that wrought l’affaire Libor.”
— John Helyar, coauthor of Barbarians at the Gate

 “Having gained unparalleled access to the central player in the conspiracy, Enrich unwinds this complex web of criminality, taking readers into the trading rooms, bars and business centers where plans were hatched. With an unerring eye for detail, Enrich shows in this masterful work how a toxic stew of greed, arrogance and a lust for power led to a criminal scheme of unparalleled dimensions. It should be required reading for anyone who wants to understand the dirty underbelly of the financial world.”
— Kurt Eichenwald, author of The Informant

The Spider Network: The Wild Story of a Math Genius, a Gang of Backstabbing Bankers, and One of the Greatest Scams in Financial History (9780062452986) by David Enrich. $29.99 hardcover. 3/21/17 on sale.

Nonfiction Short Take: Powerhouse – James Andrew Miller

Unless you’re a buyer, you haven’t heard much about this one because it’s under a publicity embargo. Author James Andrew Miller is written two previous bestsellers (Those Guys Have All the Fun and Live from New York) and this new book seems likely to give him his third.

It’s an oral history of Creative Artists Agency, Hollywood’s largest talent agency and a major force in movies, television, music, and sports for the last fifty years. If that sounds like something you’d just file away in the business or media section, consider what The New York Post said about the book in its Summer Reading feature:

It’s dishy. It’s like People Magazine meets The Godfather. It’s like nothing else. I ate it up.”

Because of the embargo I can’t really give too much detail here but I can say it’s like watching fifty Jerry Maguire and Ari Golds duking it out, not to mention getting the juicy back stories of their A list clients.

So far coverage is scheduled in The New Yorker, The NYT, Vanity Fair, Sport Illustrated and The Today Show. I expect a lot more.

Powerhouse: The Untold Story of Hollywood’s Creative Artists Agency (9780062441379) by James Andrew Miller. $32.50 hardcover. 8/9/16 on sale.