The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry

Wow.

Oh wow.

Long time since a book made me say that.

I found The Essex Serpent on Waterstones’ Clearance shelf about two weeks ago. I remembered the title from The Times’ bestseller lists earlier in the year and the cover and inside blurb suggested it was worth the £8 investment.

What a buy.

It’s about relationships, and love in particular. Tell me that prior to reading the book and I might not even have started it. But the blurb mentioned the story was set in the 1890s and the cover, a mix of gold, black and blue swirling flowers caught my imagination.

And after just a few pages the writing style absolutely caught me.

Thomas Hardy came to mind with the vivid descriptions of the countryside, in this case the Essex countryside around the Blackwater area. The writing is quite mesmeric, and having played around with different styles myself, I found the language hypnotic. The characters too are memorably drawn and developed, with the story having a third person POV but giving us an insight into everyone’s feelings too. This might break some rules somewhere but, heck, it works.

It’s interesting that when I came to read the book I had forgotten about the blurb mention of 1893 and I couldn’t quite get a finger on what year it was meant to be set in, I felt it was late Victorian but the lack of any further mention of a date left me in a haze – rather like the story itself, the descriptions of the surroundings and changing seasons making me feel I was almost in another world or in some place frozen in time, that’s the dizzying effect the writing style and the story had on me. Wonderfully intoxicating.

It’s one of those books which you want never to put down yet at the same time never to finish. The main story line of Cora and William is just one which you fear isn’t going to end the way you wish. But I think the author handled that aspect very well. No spoilers here.

I was quite surprised how young the author seems from her back flyleaf description and photo, the understanding of relationships and the perception of Nature suggested a more experienced writer. This, I believe, is only Sarah Perry’s second book.

It’s also one of those books which I think will survive a second reading, and why not more. The countryside descriptions in themselves are worth a revisit and study.

There’s a potential movie here surely or a TV short series.

Right, I’m heading back to that Clearance shelf in Waterstones…

 

 

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