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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Book Review – The Double Game by Dan Fesperman

The Double GameThe Double Game by Dan Fesperman

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Overall I found this to be an engrossing book. It took a while to really grab me but the plot moved along well and the references to other spy thrillers made for a fun idea. Having the main character as a 50-something man made a nice change from the usual younger men who are able to muscle their way out of incidents or are experts with an array of weaponry. On the odd occasion, and I can only think of one right now, that he has to take direct action he is genuinely surprised he managed it. The character’s relationship with an old flame is well handled and is left nicely open at the end. There’s a good ‘subplot’ of the relationships between the main character and his father and his own son.

One criticism might be that the book moves at a relatively slow pace and there are few dramatic moments. The tension comes through the main character’s perception of being followed or watched rather than being physically threatened. I’ve not read a Dan Fesperman novel before so it might be that this is his trademark style. In some ways it is a refreshingly old-fashioned type of thriller. Give it a try and stick with it if your attention falters.

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Book review: The White Devil by Justin Evans

The White DevilThe White Devil by Justin Evans
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When I started this book I wasn’t sure it would hold my attention. However I have to admit it did grow on me and after a couple of lengthy reading sessions I was quite addicted to it. I raced through the last fifteen pages or so as I was keen to find out the ending.
It’s a fairly conventional ghost story, there’s nothing new or novel in the plot and early on I found some of the erotic scenes a little voyeuristic and unnecessary – although as the story unfolded I did see why the writer included these brief, really quite innocent scenes.
The POV does alter throughout the book although Andrew is the main one used. It is a little distracting switching the POVs but I suppose it was done to show us the motives and ‘baggage’ of the other characters. As Andrew is in his late teens I suppose he would not have understood or guessed at the other characters’ motivations.
Andrew’s relationship with Persephone did strike me at times as just a grown up version of Harry Potter and Hermione but again, as the story unfolds, I could see why it was there.
The ending was well done. I’m sure readers will immediately think of an alternative one as I did. But the author probably got it right with the one he went for.
A surprisingly enjoyable read. Strange Justin Evans hasn’t seemed to have written anything else since 2011.

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