Wednesday, June 7, 2017
The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry.
*Starred Review* Secret love and the suggestion of something unearthly moving in the Essex Blackwater drive the intricate plot of this atmospheric historical novel about Cora Seaborne, a widow visiting Colchester with her companion, ostensibly to explore the estuary for fossils. A medieval "winged serpent" myth still holds the inhabitants of Aldwinter in thrall, despite the best efforts of the local rector, Will Ransome; and as Perry's second novel (following After Me Comes the Flood, 2015) wends its way through mysterious disappearances, fog-laden visions, suspicion, and tragedy, it seems as if the monster is real. The vivid, often frightening imagery (the Leviathan, a shack sinking in the bog, the scrape of scales moving up the shingle) and the lush descriptions ("stained glass angels had the wings of jays") create a magical background for the sensual love story between Sarah and Will. Book-discussion groups will have a field day with the imagery, the well-developed characters, and the concepts of innocence, evil, and guilt. Like Lauren Groff's The Monsters of Templeton (2008), the appearance of a sea monster sheds more light on humanity than on natural history, while the sudden revelation of a creature of the deep heralds change and revelation, as in Jim Lynch's The Highest Tide