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.