The Essex Serpent

There are books that I read, finish, and realize I’ll need to read again several times in order to understand all the layers in them. The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry is one of those books. The book follows Cora Seaborne, a recent widow, who goes with her son and companion to Essex from London after the death of her husband.

As Cora meets people in Essex, particularly a reverend in a nearby village, she pursues her love of books and fossils and science. Over the top of all this, the villagers believe there is a serpent in their midst and are accounting for missing boats and animals by saying they’ve been taken by the serpent. So as Cora and the reverend’s relationship progresses and becomes more complicated, the myth of the serpent is constantly in the background.

The secondary characters in the book are fascinating as well, a doctor in love with Cora, Cora’s companion who is interested in affordable, safe housing and active politically to such ends, the rich friend of the doctor, who is also a doctor himself, and the wife of the reverend who is dying of consumption. The depth of the secondary characters is amazing, and a big part of what I’m still trying to figure out.

After finishing, I’m not sure I totally understand all that was happening, but I do know that I’d love to hang out with Cora and the reverend and talk with them.