The Essex Serpent: The number one bestseller and British Book Awards Book of the Year
An excellent historical novel filled with mystery and excellent characterisation.
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.
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.