Skip to content

The Essex Serpent: The Sunday Times bestseller

The Essex Serpent: The Sunday Times bestseller by Sarah Perry

As seen:

By Sarah Perry

avg rating

6 reviews


Overall Book of the Year and Fiction Book of the Year at the British Book Awards 2017 (Nibbies)

Longlisted for the 2017 Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction

The Waterstones Book of the Year 2016

Shortlisted for the 2016 Costa Novel Award

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

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.

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


27 Jan 2023

Another great historical fiction text, this time Victorian Essex. Fabulous.

14 Aug 2022

Beautifully written and unexpected. Much better than the TV adaptation.

26 Aug 2021

I loved this book, A great story and told with great sensitivity and evocation of place and landscape.
A celebration of love in it's many forms. Recommend.

28 Jun 2018

An excellent historical novel filled with mystery and excellent characterisation.

23 Jan 2018


Only half the book club finished this book, many found it too long, dry, and generally slow as a book. We found that the writing style felt very Victorian with it being very whimsical, but it was hard to keep track of what you'd read in this style. We felt that the descriptions of people seemed to stick but the things they did and said just slipped out of our minds.

Some members of the book club didn't get on well with the magical realism elements such as the book masquerading as a monster etc. There were also a lot of different storylines to follow such as the little ginger girl, the medical elements, the social housing problems, the witch craft etc. They were all interesting but together they were just too much. Everything seemed to hang together with thin little threads such as the fact that Edward was stabbed, and then what that lead on to. Every little action seemed to have such massive consequences that were sometimes hard to follow.

We discussed the symptoms of consumption and how it made people feel to happy and euphoric, plus it made people look ethereally beautiful but really it was killing them slowly. It even became a bit of trend at the time for people to try and emulate those with consumption so that they too could be beautiful. Some of the things done to emulate a consumptive person actually caused bodily harm!

Overall we gave this book 5 out of 10.

06 Dec 2016

The Essex Serpent centres on a woman in the late 18th Century, whose husband has recently died. But Cora Seaborne is not the constrained grieving widow you might expect to read about in a book set at this time – her situation has given her a freedom she has not experienced before, that she takes full advantage of. She moves to Essex to hunt for fossils and hears tales of a possible ‘living fossil’; the Essex Serpent, a creature apparently living in the estuary and terrorising the local community. Cora wants to unravel its mystery and in the process becomes closely involved with the local rector, his wife and his family. The book explores debates between religion, science and superstition, and also the line between friendship and romantic love. Cora is a wonderfully independent, wilful and compelling character, at the heart of a brilliant and satisfying book.

Latest offers

View our other programmes